Published Friday, October 31, 2003
Girl's Murder Haunts Mother, Detective
Tina Janose, 13, was kidnapped and killed 22 years ago. No one has been charged.
By Margarita Martin-Hidalgo
WAHNETA -- There's been no justice for Tina Janose.
Twenty-two years ago today, the 13-year-old was kidnapped from her Wahneta home, strangled, and her body thrown off an Interstate 4 overpass east of Lakeland.
No one has ever been charged in the 1981 murder. But Detective Louis Giampavolo, the latest in a string of Polk sheriff's investigators assigned to the case, said he knows who probably murdered the girl.
Giampavolo is confident the killer is James Norman Ulmer, a Lakeland man with a bizarre sexual fetish and a history of breaking into homes.
Months after Tina's murder, Ulmer, who was 24 at the time, was arrested after a 10-year-old Lakeland girl was kidnapped and, like Tina, thrown off an I-4 overpass.
The girl survived and identified Ulmer in court.
Ulmer was sentenced to 80 years in prison and died in 1996 in somewhat murky circumstances at DeSoto Memorial Hospital in Arcadia. Polk investigators say they were told Ulmer died of respiratory failure, but state prison officials have given them few details, citing medical confidentiality rules.
At the time of his 1982 arrest in the attack on the 10-year-old, Ulmer seemed a prime suspect in Tina's killing. But he wouldn't talk to detectives and for reasons that aren't entirely clear, Ulmer wasn't interviewed later after he was sent to prison.
Giampavolo, who was 9 when Tina was murdered, has worked relentlessly for two years to solve the mystery of her death.
He and a colleague requested the services of a renowned California psychologist who has won fame for her profiles of serial killers and rapists. The profile of the hypothetical killer she prepared is eerily similar in some ways to a profile completed of Ulmer.
While Giampavolo is certain Ulmer murdered Tina, the Sheriff's Office has never officially cleared other suspects in the case.
One of them is Frank Potts Sr., a convicted murderer who the Sheriff's Office once labeled a likely serial killer, an accusation they now say went too far.
For Tina's mother, knowing who killed her daughter will provide some peace of mind. But Laguan Whitfield said one question will still remain:
"I just want to know why."
It was Oct. 30, 1981, the night before Halloween.
Tina and her siblings watched a scary movie while eating Kentucky Fried Chicken. The children went to bed at 11:30 p.m.
Sometime after that, Tina went outside, possibly to check on her pet rabbits. An animal lover, Tina probably heard a noise outside and thought it was a cat that had been coming around the rabbit hutch, Whitfield said.
Her mother is convinced Tina knew her killer. She suspects that after Tina went outside, she was approached by someone who didn't cause her alarm.
Detectives determined there was no forced entry into the mobile home Tina shared with her mother, her two siblings and her mother's boyfriend and future husband, Jimmie Whitfield.
Passers-by found Tina's partially nude body about 6:30 a.m. Oct. 31 in an eastbound lane of Interstate 4, under the Mount Olive overpass in Polk City.
She was lying face down. Her hands were bound with a gold bedsheet that belonged to her.
She had been sexually assaulted and strangled with the lavender nightgown she'd borrowed from her mother.
Coping with Tina's death is still hard for Whitfield, her two remaining children and ex-husband.
If Ulmer is her daughter's killer, then his death in prison is "what he deserved."
But she wonders why the suspect wasn't brought to account earlier if "Ulmer did it, and they can prove it this late in the game."
LACK OF EVIDENCE
The case file on the Tina Janose murder is a thick white binder full of information. It contains Tina's DNA information and aerial photographs of Wahneta. There are numerous interviews with relatives, friends and acquaintances.
Bits and pieces in the case file hint that Ulmer is the killer.
What Giampavolo doesn't have are fingerprints, hair samples, blood or other physical evidence that tie him to Tina.
So what makes Giampavolo, a former Navy medic, so sure he's going to crack this case?
Giampavolo said the nonphysical evidence is compelling. Tina's murder was nearly identical to the case of the Kathleen girl who was tossed from an overpass in June 1982.
"It's truly the same," he said.
Ulmer dragged the 10-year-old from her bedroom where she was sleeping, threatened to kill her and then drove her around for hours.
Finally, he pulled her out of the car and forced her over the side of the overpass wall. She clung to the railing, but he pried loose her hands and fingers, and she dropped 24 feet to the ground.
He was convicted of attempted murder, kidnapping and burglary and sentenced to 80 years in prison.
Ulmer lived in Lakeland but had ties to Wahneta. One of his sisters lived near Tina, and he had friends in the area whom he visited.
Whitfield said it's likely her daughter and Ulmer knew one another.
Ulmer had a habit of breaking into people's homes.
In an incident in May 1982, he broke into a Wahneta home and was caught standing over a teenage girl who was sleeping. The girl's mother saw him and he ran.
He came back to the home another night, and this time the girl's father was ready with a gun. He held Ulmer at gunpoint until deputies arrived and arrested him.
The family in that incident lived near Tina's home.
Ulmer had a sexual habit that frightened his family. His sisters told deputies he stole women's underwear from relatives and neighbors and used them to masturbate.
They told detectives "they were concerned that he might harm someone," according to a report made after his arrest on the kidnapping and attempted murder charges
When Ulmer was arrested in 1982 his background and habits made him a prime suspect in Tina's murder.
"Numerous law enforcement officials feel that the subject is in some way involved or related" to Tina's murder, said a sheriff's report written in November 1982.
Sheriff's Col. Grady Judd, who was head of the criminal investigations division at the time, recalled Ulmer wasn't cooperative when he was arrested in the case of the 10-year-old.
Judd couldn't recall whether detectives requested interviews with Ulmer after he was sent to prison.
The number of references to Ulmer in the case file declined as the years passed.
That may have been because sheriff's officials had turned their attention to another high-profile suspect.
FOCUS SHIFTS TO POTTS
Interest in the case picked up again in the early 1990s, when the Sheriff's Office turned its sights toward Frank Potts Sr., a citrus laborer and drifter with a serious anti-social streak.
At a widely publicized news conference, sheriff's Maj. Marvin Pittman said investigators had good reason to suspect Pitts was a serial killer, who may have killed Tina Janose.
Potts was charged with killing an Indiana man and fondling a 10-year-old Lakeland girl. He was convicted in both cases and sentenced to life in prison. He is serving the sentences at Jackson Correctional Institution in Malone.
Today, high-ranking sheriff's officials say Pittman's accusation was premature, and they don't think Potts is -- or ever was -- a serial killer.
But they still say they haven't eliminated Potts as a suspect in Tina's murder.
However, Giampavolo has become focused squarely on Ulmer.
At the suggestion of another detective, the Sheriff's Office contacted Dr. Phoebe Kelsoe, a criminal psychologist and professor at the University of California at Riverside.
Kelsoe reviewed the case file last year, and her analysis of the murderer is consistent with a psychological profile made of Ulmer after his arrest on burgarly charges but before the kidnapping of the 10-year-old.
Kelsoe concluded the murderer was a white man in his early 20s with a spotty job history and sexual problems. She said Tina probably knew her killer.
Giampavolo said Kelsoe's report "is consistent with statements family members gave detectives" and the earlier psychological analysis.
Now he is trying to track down cellmates of Ulmer in hopes that Ulmer confided something about Tina's case.
For Whitfield, the resolution won't come soon enough. She's known Ulmer was a suspect since his arrest in the attack on the 10-year-old Kathleen girl. Whitfield attended Ulmer's trial for that crime but lost track of him.
Then, in 1996, she got a call from the Kathleen girl, who by then was in her 20s.
The young woman wanted Whitfield to know that Ulmer was dead.
Margarita Martin-Hidalgo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7590.
Last modified: October 31. 2003 12:00AM
Copyright 2003 The Ledger