St. Petersburg, FL -- On Friday, February 19, 1993, Jennifer Odom stepped off her school bus around 3 p.m., waved goodbye to friends, and started walking the short 200 yards to her home in rural Pasco County, FL. Children on the bus reported they saw a faded blue pickup truck slowly following Jennifer as she walked home, but Jennifer never made it to her door.
During the next days, law enforcement, equipped with police dogs, and hundreds of volunteers scoured 60 square miles of rolling groves, pastures and woods surrounding the tiny Pasco town of Dade City, FL.
On Thursday, February 25, 1993, a man and a woman searching an abandoned orange grove in southeast Hernando County, FL, found Jennifer. Jennifer was nude, left wearing only two rings and a gold necklace with two charms. Jennifer's clothes have not been found.
According to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, Jennifer was killed, probably shortly after she was kidnapped, from a blow to the head.
Approximately two years later on Thursday, January 5, 1995, a couple hunting for scrap metal in a rural area of Hernando County discovered Jennifer's missing book bag and clarinet case. The bag and case were found in heavy brush near a dirt road 12 miles west of the area where Jennifer's body was located in 1993 and approximately 20 miles from her home in Pasco County.
Suspect vehicle is a mid to full size, older model pick-up truck, medium to dark blue (faded) in color, with pipes and/or ladders in back, rectangular side mirrors, trailer hitch with wires hanging, and silver bumper in back (not chrome).
Dec. 2, 2001 -- There are a couple of reasons for hoping for an arrest in the case of Jennifer Odom, abducted from near her Pasco school bus stop in 1993 and later found dead in Hernando County.
One is that Hernando deputies, eight years later, haven't given up on the case.
The other is that in criminal law, murder is forever.
Murder investigations are different.
Noncapital cases must result in an arrest in a given amount of time before the statute of limitations says the person who committed the crime can no longer be prosecuted.
But murder is forever, and so is the length of time available to prosecutors.
And that's why I have been writing variations of this same column for 20 years.
Sharra Ferger was killed in 1997. She was 9 years old and, according to court documents, cried out the name by which she knew one of her alleged attackers, "Uncle Gary," as she was raped, bitten and otherwise brutalized, until a stab wound to the head -- one of at least 46 wounds inflicted on her body with at least two weapons -- silenced her. (Story on page 104.)
During the four years since she was abducted from her Blanton home and later found dead in a nearby field, one man was arrested and released and the ongoing investigation amassed an estimated 8,000 pages of information before the indictment in June of Sharra's uncle, Gary Elishi Cochran, 35, and Gary Steven Cannon, a family friend.
Diane Wentworth was 19 when she went to a party in western Hernando County in 1983. It wasn't until 1989 that a woman who had been in prison read a newspaper story about the old case and provided the Hernando County Sheriff's Office with information that led to the arrest and trial of a Spring Hill man who was acquitted.
Elana Goldstein was 14 when she was shot to death as she walked home from her school bus stop 20 years ago this week. (Story on page 121.) It wasn't until 13 years later, in 1994, that prosecutors and detectives confirmed that they were convinced that the man who killed her had died in prison the year before.
We live in a sound-bite world where we expect crimes to be solved within the constraints of a one-hour television drama, when the opposite is the case.
Hours, years and even decades of unexciting unsexy, sheer drudgery go into some murder investigations before they are solved, and cops, the good ones anyway, won't admit that any case is unsolvable.
There is always a witness or a piece of evidence out there somewhere, they reason, that can lead them to the killer or his grave.
There have been spurts of activity in Jennifer Odom's case. In 1998 a man thought to be a material witness in the case was brought down from New England to talk to a Hernando County grand jury . . . a dead end.
In 1994 the case was featured on the television show Unsolved Mysteries without concrete results.
In 1995, Jennifer's book bag and clarinet case were found in a remote area north and west of where her body was found. In 1998, police searched a pond near where the book bag was found, and, acting on information they would not reveal the source of, detectives searched a mobile home in Orlando, again apparently without notable results.
Today, a picture of Jennifer Odom is one of the first things Hernando detective Mike Nelson sees when he walks into his cubicle to begin his work day as the county's first full-time cold case detective.
He's still waiting for the key piece of information that will unlock the puzzle and allow him to call Rene and Clark Converse, Jennifer's mother and stepfather, and tell them he has found the answer to an 8-year-old question.
And because other cases haven't been as active doesn't mean that they are forgotten.
Brooksville police still snap to attention at any mention of the case of Dori Colyer and Ricky Merrill, a young couple injected with drugs and then burned alive in Merrill's El Camino in downtown Brooksville a few months before the Elana Goldstein killing.
And Pasco authorities are still very interested in hearing anything about the murder of Helen "Wendy" LaRoche, who was a 21-year-old newlywed when she was shot to death during a convenience store robbery in 1986, or Travis Crouch, a 20-month-old boy who died of a head injury police think he received in 1998 while he was home alone with his father and his girlfriend, neither of whom has been charged. (Story on page 75.)
Likewise still on the unsolved list is the November 2000 death of 1-month-old Puirmesh Mangroo, who was found dead a little over a year ago in the crib he shared with his twin sister at his parents' home near Zephyrhills. (Story on page 197.)
Sheriff's deputies say that the death was "most definitely a homicide," but have been unable to come up with enough evidence to charge anyone.
Over the years that I have been keeping track of these cases, since the night in 1981 that I promised Marjorie and Bob Goldstein that I would do so, a couple of names have come off the list, more have been added.
Anyone who wants to make the call that can make me retire the concept of annual columns on unsolved killings of young people would be doing me, and a lot of much more important people, their families and friends, a great favor.