The Unsolved Murder of Bonnie Huffman

When you’re young you sometimes feel invincible. Your whole life is ahead of you and it’s hard not to imagine yourself having a successful future. Your dreams and ambitions are at your fingertips, and the world is your oyster.

bonnie huffmanThese thoughts were no different for Bonnie Huffman, a hardworking, intelligent 20-year-old school teacher whom, in 1954, had just finished up her third year of teaching for K-8 students in Buckeye School in Old Appleton, Missouri.

While working as a school teacher, she was living with her mother, Lillie Huffman, and half-brother, Bobby Thiele in a three-room farmhouse and using the money she earned from teaching to help pay the bills, but was soon to start working an office job at Missouri Utilities Company that would provide more of a substantial source of income.

Bonnie also had plans of marriage with her boyfriend of four years, Doug Hiett, and they had made the appropriate arrangments for such an occasion even though they weren’t engaged. As with many relationships, however, they had their fair share of problems. Doug had been absent for a while because he was in the U.S. Army and deployed in Korea but had recently returned during the summer of 1954. It’s unclear what transpired, but on July 3rd, 1954, he unexpectedly ended his relationship with Bonnie without providing an explanation.

The break-up devastated Bonnie, and not knowing what to do she called her best friend mary lou bessMary Lou Bess and asked if she would accompany her to the Broadway Theater in Delta, Missouri, to help clear her head. Mary happily agreed, and she and her husband, Cramer Bess, met up with Bonnie soon thereafter, and they managed to keep Bonnie in good spirits for several hours.

Once the Broadway movie was over, Bonnie suggested the three go to the nearby tavern. She thought it would be humorous to watch drunk people stumbling around the parking lot. Mary and Cramer thought this was a peculiar thing for Bonnie to propose because she always avoided this particular bar due to its unsavory reputation. Mary and Cramer both assumed Bonnie was wanting to go there with the possibility of finding Doug but didn’t want to ask her reasoning. Instead, the two declined her offer and recommended that she should go home and try to get some rest.

The three parted ways, and Mary and Cramer believed Bonnie would be going home as well, but they noticed her get in her grey 1938 Ford and head in a different direction than her normal route. That was the last time Mary saw her best friend alive, and it’s unknown whether or not Bonnie drove to the tavern. What is known is that Bonnie did seem to be going back home on Highway N, but she never arrived.

The following morning when Bonnie didn’t arrive home, Lillie and Bobby started to get concerned. Bobby decided to make a trip to Delta, Missouri and found Bonnie’s vehicle parked in the middle of the road. At first, he presumed she had car trouble and checked to see what was wrong. The car managed to start up fine, and he proceeded to move it out of incoming traffic. Thereafter, he went back home to inform his mother, and the two called Mary and Doug to see if Bonnie was with either one of them, but she wasn’t. It was at this point Lillie and Bobby started to panic, and they called the police to report her missing.

When the police arrived at Bonnie’s vehicle, they found her car keys still in the ignition, but her purse, glasses, necklace, and watch were missing. There was also a Gene Autry toy cap gun near her car and a VFW magazine. However, they couldn’t locate Bonnie.

One day later on the morning of July 5, 1954, a young couple passing through from Allenville, Missouri noticed a foul stench in the air. They followed the source of the odor and uncovered the body of Bonnie Huffman two miles down the road, lying in a culvert, near the local high school, approximately two miles away from where her vehicle was found. The police were quickly notified and an investigation immediately ensued.

bonnie huffman newspaper

Bonnie was discovered to have knee abrasions, a dislocated jaw, and her neck broken. Her t-shirt was partially torn and her underwear was missing. This police believed she was sexually assaulted and murdered, but due to the warm temperatures and a lack of medical advancement, an official ruling after an autopsy couldn’t be determined.

It was theorized that Bonnie’s killer(s) made her park her vehicle, and subsequently brandished the toy cap gun to force her to comply. A struggle occurred, and Bonnie was forced into the perpetrator’s vehicle and managed to jump out while they were driving, and while doing so, was severely injured and the driver proceeded to rape, murder, and discard her.

Once the news of Bonnie’s murder started to make headlines, the entire community was in disarray — scared that such a grisly crime could occur in a small, populated town. The police were doing everything in their power to solve the case. They were interviewing hundreds of citizens and issued numerous polygraph tests, but they had trouble locating promising leads.

One tip they did pursue extensively came from the VFW magazine located at the crime scene. They managed to track down the subscriber and his mailing address to St. Louis, Missouri. According to the subscriber, he and his nephew were down in Hiram, Missouri — near Bollinger County, where Bonnie was discovered — for the 4th of July weekend but left back for home abruptly. Moreover, it was discovered that his nephew had actually been arrested in Bollinger County for sexual assault. The uncle was given a polygraph test and passed without any issues. It’s unsure if his nephew was followed up on more heavily or not.

Bonnie’s ex-boyfriend, Doug, was also brought in for questioning. He complied wholeheartedly and expressed deep remorse; blaming himself for her murder by saying, “If I hadn’t broken up with her, none of this would have happened.” He also stated he had planned to mend things with Bonnie because he regretted ending their relationship so suddenly. After a thorough investigation and a strong alibi for his whereabouts on the night this tragedy occurred, he was ruled out as a suspect. With the lack of pivotal leads to follow up on, Bonnie’s murder turned into a cold case.

One year later, a wooden cross mysteriously appeared where Bonnie’s body was found. Shortly thereafter, an unidentified person removed it for unbeknownst reasons. In 2007, a replica was planted anonymously, with the words: To the memory of Bonnie Huffman. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me though he were dead, yet shall he live. – John 11:25, KJV.

bonnie huffman cross

Ten years went by and in 1964, Bonnie’s cold case started to defrost when a true crime magazine covered her story and caused a huge splash. The author of the article illustrated Bonnie’s physical attributes and portrayed her as a lustful object for careless men, and labeled her killer(s) as a “Merciless sex fiend.” The sensational article created a much-needed resurgence in Bonnie’s case, and law enforcement began to look more heavily into the investigation. As a result, more leads and potential suspects were disinterred.

One person of interested was a man who molested his own two daughters when they were only six years old. Another individual unveiled was a man littered with tattoos and religiously spoke openly about his desires of sex and berating women. The last person examined was a local mechanic who had dark sexual fantasies and wore women’s clothing when he was at home. Unfortunately, law enforcement was unable to connect any of the men to Bonnie, and they were ruled out as a suspect.

Once again, Bonnie’s case became stagnant. It wouldn’t be until decades later in 2004 when the Cape Girardeau’s police station had a new clue emerge from a mysterious letter from Florida. It was mailed anonymously and had no return address. The contents inside had a detailed summary of what happened on the night of Bonnie’s murder.

According to the author, he (or she) was on their way home after a long night of dancing with friends and stumbled upon a deserted vehicle in the middle of the road. He believed the driver needed assistance, so he got out of his car but soon realized nobody was in view. In mere seconds, he spotted two men throwing *someone* in the ditch. In the midst of the commotion, he heard a female voice screaming for help at the bottom of the culvert. The two men became aware of his presence and immediately chased after him. He quickly got back inside his vehicle, and the two men attempted to force their way into his car to pull him out but the doors were locked. They proceeded to run to their vehicles and block his pathway on the road. He managed to escape their grasp and would go on to say in the letter, “How I ever got the clutch in and shifted, I will never know.”

Additionally, the author claimed he didn’t come forward sooner because he was petrified of retaliation, particularly because of how small the town was. Moreover, he included a hand-drawn map of where Bonnie’s body was found, along with accurate depictions of the roads and where the stores and the Cape Girardeau Police Department were located at the time. The police concluded that the letter was genuine and the most tangible piece of evidence they had. Sadly, the author never made contact again and due to his anonymity, the promising lead was unable to be pursued further.

It’s now been over sixty years, and most of the locals, witnesses, and possibly Bonnie’s killer(s) have passed away. The physical evidence collected has since been destroyed, although a single latent fingerprint from Bonnie’s rearview mirror still exists. With not much to work with, the likelihood of her case being solved is slim to none. One of the original officers who investigated the crime stated, “It’s just one of those things. Some cases can’t be solved. It’s just as simple as that.”

For Doug Hiett, he never really was able to forgive himself but did manage to learn how to cope with survivor’s remorse. He eventually married a lovely woman and had two beautiful daughters, and worked at Cotton Belt Railroad for forty years before retiring. In March of 2009, at the age of 76-years-old, Doug passed away and was buried at the Missouri Veterans Cemetery in Bloomfield, Missouri.

bonnie huffman bench
Image Source: STL Today

Bonnie’s surviving family members do their best to keep her case in the spotlight. They cling on to hope that with the neverending advancement in technology and the medical field, answers will eventually be presented, even if Bonnie’s killer(s) aren’t alive any longer. If they can obtain a name and a face, that will suffice and bring some form of closure.

In 2011, relatives of Bonnie purchased a set of black onyx benches that have her photograph engraved on them. They are located in Bollinger County Memorial Park Cemetary in Marble Hill, Missouri, where she is buried. To this day, the small town of Delta, Missouri memorializes the life of Bonnie Huffman. She will never be forgotten, and even though her case remains unsolved, her beautiful and radiant smile forever stays present in the minds and hearts of the community.

Sources:

Find a Grave

The Southeast Missourian

St. Louis Today

Snoop Dorky Dork Blog

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The St. Louis Jane Doe of 1983

StL Jane Doe ApartmentOn a brisk Monday afternoon on February 28, 1983, in St. Louis Missouri, two rummagers went looking for scrap metal for their car in the basement of an abandoned apartment building — which has long since been bulldozed —  located at 5635 Clemens Avenue. One of the individuals pulled out his lighter to light his cigarette and that’s when they stumbled upon a gruesome sight.

There was an African American girl estimated to be between the ages of eight to eleven and approximately 4’10 – 5’6 in height. She was wearing a blood-stained yellow V-neck sweater with no tags and she was positioned face down with her pants and underwear removed. Her head had been decapitated and mold was growing on her neck. There were two coats of red nail polish on her fingers and her hands were bound by the wrists with red and white nylon rope.

When homicide detectives Joe Burgoon and Herb Riley arrived at the crime scene they initially thought she could have been a prostitute until they examined the body and realized the victim hadn’t gone through puberty. They determined she was beheaded elsewhere — possibly by a large carving knife because of how cleanly cut her head was removed — due to the lack of blood and was subsequently discarded at a later time. They did find some traces of blood on the side of the walls leading to the basement that indicated she had been carried and her body brushed against it during the process. An autopsy conducted by Mary Case from St. Louis’s Medical Examiner’s Office showed she had been raped and her cause of death was by strangulation three or five days prior to being found.

St. Louis Jane Doe Newspaper 1

As for the child’s head, it was never recovered despite an extensive search from Jerry Thomas and Frank Booker. This hindered the investigation because dental examinations couldn’t be provided nor a facial reconstruction through forensic technology programming. The investigators scoured a list of all children at the surrounding schools but everyone was accounted for. They proceeded to look through the database of missing children yet there had been no reports of a young child matching her description being missing, and she was ruled out as being five possible victims of ranging from several states including a Jane Doe from Northampton County, North Carolina.

At one point, detectives sought out assistance from a group of psychics who performed a seance. Herb Riley gave them photos of Jane Doe’s fingerprints, and as they passed the photocopies around they all had the same conclusion; her head would be located on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico and he should immediately contact the Coast Guard. This lead was pursued in-depth but it proved to be a dead end.

St. Louis Jane Doe Newspaper

Jane Doe’s case quickly turned cold and after ten months of exhausting all possible leads and nobody coming forward to claim her body, she was buried in December of 1983 at Washington Park Cemetary in Berkeley, Missouri.

Ten years later in 1993, investigators mailed her blood-stained sweater and nylon rope that bound her hands to a psychic residing in Florida for further analysis but this was a fruitless endeavor because the evidence was lost in the mail delivery. In 1996, the original homicide detective Herb Riley passed away and Jane Doe’s case was one of two cases he never solved during his tenure with the police department.

Twenty years passed by and in June of 2013, investigators were able to exhume the child’s remains with the hope of gathering new forensic evidence by modern advancements made in science and technology. This task proved difficult because the cemetery she had been buried in was unkempt, appeared long forgotten, her grave was unmarked, and many people were displaced because of insufficient care with the burial records.

With the help of willful volunteers and other various resources, Jane Doe’s remains were unearthed and transported to the St. Louis Medical Examiner’s Office where researchers from the Smithsonian Institution and University of North Texas recalibrated bone sampling and minerals (stable isotope analysis) to attempt to narrow down her native origins based on the water she had drank. The testing revealed she had spent most of her life in one of the numerous southeastern states including Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Louisiana, and North or South Carolina.

Though new scientific testing provided a glimmer of hope to the child’s case, the police say it’s rather unlikely she will be properly identified unless someone comes forward with vital information. If any light can be shed on this devastating tragedy, it would be the nicknames she was given — “Hope” or “Little Jane Doe” — and her reburial in Calvary Cemetery on West Florissant Rd. in north St. Louis, Missouri, funded by the nonprofit organization, “Garden of Innocents,” where the plot of land is regularly maintained.

Overall, the list of suspects was unfortunately very short. With a lack of evidence from her murder, finding a person of interest was difficult. The authorities suspected a family member may be involved due to no reports of a child being reported missing, but considering they were unable to determine where she was from, that theory was hard to substantiate. However, there was one suspect that caught the eyes of the investigators.

Vernon Brown StL Jane DoeVernon Brown was born on October 1, 1953. He had a very troubled upbringing and suffered from excessive physical abuse from his grandfather. He dropped out of high school and in 1973 he was convicted of molesting a twelve-year-old girl and subsequently spent four years in an Indiana prison. After his release, nine-year-old Kimberly Campbell disappeared under mysterious circumstances. She was later found raped and strangled in a vacant residence that was owned by Vernon’s grandmother. Though he was considered the prime suspect in the case, there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him with the crime. In 1985, Vernon relocated to Enright Avenue in St. Louis, Missouri, living under the false name, Thomas Turner, where he was living with his wife and stepchildren.

At approximately 3:00 p.m. on Friday, October 24, 1986, he had just arrived home after picking up his stepchildren from school. Afterward, he sat outside on his front porch watching children walk home after being dropped off from the school bus. That’s when nine-year-old Janet Perkins, a bright young student at Cole Elementary School, was walking to her home a few blocks away, excited for the weekend. Vernon took notice and lured her into his home. His stepchildren saw her come inside and he ordered them into their bedrooms and locked their doors from the outside.

Vernon led Janet down to the basement where he bound her feet and hands by using a wire coat hanger. Moments later, he began to strangle her with a rope. Vernon’s stepchildren could hear her screaming and pleading for her life as her voice echoed through the air vents. Thereafter, he discarded her body and went on about his day as if nothing ever happened.

The following day, the police discovered two trash bags containing Janet’s body in an alley behind his residence. Two days later on Monday, October 27, 1986, the police arrested Brown, and a relative of a neighbor testified on his behalf saying they witnessed Janet enter his home. Throughout questioning him by detectives he confessed to murdering Janet on videotape.

Surprisingly, he admitted to murdering nineteen-year-old Synetta Ford one year beforehand on March 7, 1985. She was found strangled by an electrical cord and stabbed multiple times in an apartment basement where he had worked as a maintenance man. At the time, the authorities arrested him for the murder but he was let go after he gave homicide detectives a false alias.

While he was in prison in Bonne Terre, Tom Carroll — a homicide detective in St. Louis — frequently visited and questioned him about other possible murders he may have committed, particularly about the young Jane Doe found in 1983. Brown never confessed to her or anyone else’s murder. However, detectives believe he could be involved with at least twenty unsolved homicide cases but they don’t have enough tangible evidence to conclusively prove their stance.

On Wednesday, May 18, 2005, at 2:35 a.m. fifty-one-year old Vernon Brown was executed by lethal injection. His last words were, “You’ll see me again. To all my friends, don’t think of me as being gone, but there with you. And to Jazz, who has my heart and love. Peace, love. Vernon Brown.” If he participated in any other murders, he took those secrets to his grave.

Jane Doe’s case has never been solved and is one that haunts the original and current investigators, but as long as her case stays in the light, as her nickname given by the police suggests, there will always be “Hope.”

The Tragic Unsolved Murder of Angie Housman

On November 18th, 1993, nine-year-old Angie Housman was last seen getting off her Angie Housmanschool bus in St. Ann, Missouri – a quiet suburb on the outskirts of St. Louis, Missouri. She wouldn’t be found until nine days later, and ever since then, her name has never been forgotten.

Continue reading “The Tragic Unsolved Murder of Angie Housman”