Unsolved murders leave loved ones in limbo

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The van Kathryn Adam used for her delivery route was found in west Salina the day after she was murdered (Salina Journal) The van Kathryn Adam used for her delivery route was found in west Salina the day after she was murdered (Salina Journal)
SALINA, Kan. (SJ) -

Twenty-five years ago, someone was there with a gun when Kathryn Adam went to a storage unit in west Salina to load her L’eggs van with an inventory of hosiery for her regular delivery route.

Twenty-five years ago, her 16-year-old daughter called police to report that Adam had not returned to their apartment all night. Investigating officers found evidence of foul play at the storage unit, but they didn’t find Adam or her van.

The case remains unsolved. Adam’s body has never been found, and her killer hasn’t been arrested.

Unsolved homicides in Saline County

Her van, however, was found late on April 30 parked at Russell’s Restaurant off West Crawford Street. The outside of the vehicle was muddy, and a large amount of Adam’s blood was found inside. There also was a large pool of her blood outside the storage building and a small amount of blood and bullet fragments inside her still-open storage unit.

Salina Police Department Capt. Paul Forrester said Adam, 35, who had moved to Salina from Solomon after separating from her husband, was murdered the first summer he started working at the department.

As a rookie he wasn’t assigned to work on the case. Now he’s captain of the detective division, and he’s about to assign a new detective to take over the Adam case.

“When a cold case gets reassigned, a fresh set of eyes looks at the evidence,” Forrester said. “They may think of something in a new way, or they may decide to re-interview someone. It can be a good thing.”

Ricky Tebrugge, who launched the Kansas Missing and Unsolved Facebook page about six years ago, said Adam was one of the first missing persons he featured on a poster created for family and friends to print and distribute.

“I’ve lived here all my life, and it’s just one of the cases that has stuck with me all these years,” he said.

Body never found

Many long-time Salinans remember when Adam went missing. Although her murder is not the only local unsolved case, it is the only case in which the victim hasn’t been found.

Heavy rains during the days that followed her disappearance hampered the search for her body and might have washed away tire tracks.

In the final image of Adam taken at 4:33 a.m. April 29 by a surveillance camera, she is backing out the door of Kwik Shop, 1727 W. Crawford, wearing a blue and white Kansas City Royals jacket and holding a receipt for gas and a newspaper in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.

That image is one of the few left for Adam’s daughter to remember her by.

In an interview with the Journal five years ago, Laura Adam said what happened to her mother had largely shaped her life. She learned martial arts so she could protect herself from an attacker and she struggles with sadness.

“It bothers me tremendously,” she said. “I don’t even know how to explain to people the sadness of never having closure, of never having a grave site to visit.”

Knowing what happened is a fundamental part of being able to accept the reality of a loss, said Dr. Ryan Poling, a post-doctoral psychologist at Veridian Behavioral Health in Salina. He said getting that information even after a long time can be helpful.

Anyone with information about what happened to Adam could make a difference by calling the KBI at (800) KS-CRIME or the Salina Police Department at 826-7210 or the Crimestoppers hotline at 825-TIPS. Crimestoppers callers can remain anonymous, and information that leads to an arrest could lead to a reward of up to $1,000.

Poling said for family and friends of Adam or anyone whose murder is unsolved, knowing that others remember and care and that police still want to find answers would be comforting.

“Having those fellow travelers is huge — knowing someone is with you makes a world of difference,” he said.

New investigator

Although Forrester said much knowledge about a case can be lost when an investigator leaves the force, he knows what a difference new eyes and new technology can make for a cold case. When he was a detective in 2001, Forrester was assigned as lead investigator for the murder of 22-year-old Sara Ann Brecheisen.

Working with a Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent, Forrester sent several pieces of evidence to the KBI lab for DNA testing, a procedure that hadn’t been available at the time of the murder in 1982.

“We got a hit,” he said. There was DNA proof that a man who previously had been identified as a person of interest had been at Brecheisen’s mobile home, Forrester said.

Robert H. Lackey II was convicted by a jury in 2002 of first-degree murder and rape for crimes committed 20 years earlier against Brecheisen, a college student who volunteered at the Gospel Mission (now the Salina Rescue Mission) in Salina. Lackey, known at the time as Bob Moore, lived at the homeless shelter and worked as a cook.

Forrester said after Lackey was identified finding him was another task. Working with the KBI, police eventually tracked him to Alabama through Social Security records. Local authorities arrested him at the motel where he’d been living. Forrester got to share the news with Brecheisen’s family.

“Obviously, closure is important to anybody involved in something like that,” he said.

What’s closure?

Poling said closure can mean different things to different people, such as the ability to return to activities a person had participated in before a traumatic event, finding ways to psychologically accommodate the hole that exists after a loved one dies, or in some circumstances finding a new romantic partner. He said the process of grief is an individualized experience in which people need to find a way to accept the reality of their loss, work through the pain, adjust to an environment that no longer includes the deceased person and find an enduring connection with the lost loved one that allows life to go on.

“Sometimes people hang on to grief because it’s the only thing they have left of the person they lost,” he said.

Poling said after a traumatic loss people can feel intense helplessness and ask questions like “Why me?” or “How could God let this happen?”

“These are serious questions, and the kicker is they have no good answers,” he said. He said the best way to help a person who is grieving is to be there for them and let them lead. He said to allow them to express whatever they are feeling, whether by screaming and yelling, crying or being silent.

“The best way to manage grief is to create space for it,” Poling said.

Still investigating

The most recent unsolved murder case is being investigated by the Saline County Sheriff’s Office, with the assistance of the KBI. Lori Jon Heimer’s body was found in her rural Assaria home after she was brutally murdered on June 25, 2016.

Sheriff Roger Soldan said Heimer’s case has not gone cold and remains open. Investigators continue to follow up on new leads.

“We just need the right one,” he said. “We’d like to get some closure for the Heimer family.”

Others unsolved

  • Adam’s murder is one of six that remain unsolved since 1977 in Salina Police Department files and two unsolved cold cases at the sheriff’s office:
  • Tom Young, 34, the owner of Raggedy Ann’s Tavern, was found in his club on July 10, 1977, with two bullet wounds in his head. Police believed the death resulted from a drug transaction that turned sour.
  • Nellie Hubbard, 79, was found beaten and strangled in her home on March 14, 1981. Police found more than $200,000 in cash and stocks in the house on East Elm Street.
  • William “Billy” Farmer, 30, of New Cambria, was shot seven times at point blank range while he sat in his car in a remote area near New Cambria on May 31,1981. Deputies believe the murder was related to a drug transaction.
  • The body of an unidentified woman called “Miss Molly” by authorities was found Jan. 25, 1986, face down in Mulberry Creek near a bridge on Interstate Highway 70 about 2 miles west of the Brookville interchange. The body has not been identified, and no one has been arrested. She is buried in Gypsum Hill Cemetery in an unmarked grave.
  • Mildred Hawkes, 85, was raped by an assailant who broke into her Salina home Oct. 31, 1987. She suffered a massive heart attack while trying to get to a neighbor’s house for help.
  • Gina Cyphers, 24, was found brutally murdered in her mobile home Dec. 28, 1995, after she failed to pick up her son when expected from a Morning Out for Moms childcare program.
  • Beverly Logan, 56, was brutally murdered in the kitchen of her Salina home Jan. 21, 2008. Police have not released information about how she was killed, although they said the assailant might have suffered cuts to the hand or body that could have required medical attention.

Most solved

Soldan said DNA testing was attempted on items of evidence found with Miss Molly’s body, but there was insufficient DNA to obtain a full profile. He said the Farmer case was reopened a few years ago, but no progress was made in the investigation. He said at present the Heimer case, which remains an active investigation, is more pressing.

Both the sheriff’s office and police department have a record of solving many more murders than remain unsolved. According to police department records, of the 27 murders that have occurred since 2000, only Logan’s murder remains unsolved.

Since 2006, the sheriff’s office has successfully found the culprits in 11 murders, with only Heimer’s killing unsolved, Soldan said.

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