Some Oklahoma homicide cases linger, but aren’t cold

BY RON JACKSON Published: October 4, 2009
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The clock continues to tick on state investigators trying to solve the homicide of the Rev. Carol Daniels, whose nude and mutilated body was found Aug. 23 inside her small Anadarko church. Authorities have not announced any persons of interest or identified any suspects.

Oklahomans have seen such a scenario unfold repeatedly in recent years with unsolved homicide cases in towns such as Poteau, Cordell, Buffalo Valley and, perhaps most notably, Weleetka. As time passes, are investigators are also battling the odds of these cases ever being solved.

"If you don’t have any solid leads in the first 48 to 72 hours, then it gets tough,” said Cleveland County Undersheriff Rhett Burnett, speaking in general terms and based on 27 years in law enforcement. "If you got nothing after 72 hours, then you should be really concerned. That’s why investigators have a heavy, heavy burden on their shoulders when they go to a crime scene.

Because each homicide presents different evidence and challenges, no one can definitively say when a case begins to go cold. Burnett, however, doesn’t believe in the term "cold case.”

"I don’t like that term,” Burnett said. "I don’t think a case should ever be ‘cold,’ but a case can go inactive if there is no new information coming in. Even then, there is always something to do. For instance, you can always go back and re-interview witnesses.”

Brent Turvey, a criminal profiler and private forensic scientist, thinks the term "cold case” is an invention of television.

"I believe agencies or investigators allow cases to go cold,” said Turvey, an Oklahoma City University adjunct professor. "But I do not believe in the existence of a cold case. ... Agencies often make the mistake of keeping the same people on a case for years. If you don’t have something solid after a while, you need to bring in an outside expert or another investigator.”

Here is a brief look at some of Oklahoma’s unsolved homicides:

Carol Daniels, 61
Place: Anadarko

Time elapsed: One month, 11 days

Case summary: Police found the Oklahoma City pastor’s body inside the Christ Holy Sanctified Church in Anadarko. Sources told The Oklahoman her body appeared to be staged in a "crucifix position” behind the altar with her throat, left breast and back slashed. Crime scene investigators processed the scene for more than 15 hours.

Comment: "I think about it all the time,” said Charles Etta Dunlap, Daniels’ mother. "Of course, at the time when you’re meeting people, you’re not thinking of anything. But now ... I have thoughts — thoughts I have shared with authorities.”

Joe Neff, 61
Place: Poteau

Time elapsed: Four months, 20 days

Case summary: Police were called to Neff’s Long Branch Saloon off U.S. 59 on May 14 after a friend of Neff’s found a lot of blood, as well as Neff’s straw hat and cigarette lighter. Three days later fishermen found Neff’s body in an old mining strip 12 miles north near Pocola. He had been killed by a gunshot wound to the head. No arrests have been made.

Comment: "Go around town, and you’ll see where people have taken down posters about my dad’s case,” said a sobbing Marie Pitchford, Neff’s daughter. "I know it’s just a piece of paper to them, but that’s my father.

Frieda Dighton, 67
Place: Buffalo Valley

Time elapsed: One year, three months, 29 days

Case summary: Authorities found Dighton dead June 5, 2008, in the bedroom of her rural home with her throat slashed. Ongoing coverage: Anadarko church killing


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