Santa Claus, IN -- Oct. 15, 1999 -- The parents of Kathy Kohm recently marked what would have been their daughter's 30th birthday by doing the same thing they do every evening -- praying for justice.

Kathy was 11 years old when she disappeared while jogging near her home in Santa Claus in 1981. Eleven weeks later, on June 11, 1981, her body was found on a dirt road. She had been raped and shot in the head.

No suspect was criminally charged. But a jury in a civil wrongful-death lawsuit ruled that Stanton Gash, a former Evansville firefighter, was responsible for the girl's death and ordered him to pay Bill and Rosemary Kohm $5,000 in damages.

Gash, whose last known residence was in Clearwater, Fla., was identified as a suspect after a Spencer County farmer told police he pulled Gash's car from the dirt road where Kathy's body was found.

''We continue to pray every evening for Kathy and that her killer is brought to justice,'' Rosemary told the Evansville Courier & Press during a telephone interview from her home in St. Louis. The Kohms moved there after the killing.

They offer no forgiveness to Gash.

''I would shoot Stanton Gash if I could get by with it,'' Rosemary said. ''I have enormous hatred for him and I don't care if the whole world knows it.

''He abducted my Katie, raped her and murdered her. It's just beyond comprehension.''

She remembered Kathy -- or ''Katie,'' as she liked to call her -- as bright, sensitive and caring.

Kathy's father, an ironworker, said he had no doubt that his daughter would have been ''a lawyer or a doctor or whatever she wanted to be. She would be making a difference in lives.''

The Kohms have followed the Boulder, Colo., case of slain 6-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey.

They do not understand the behavior of the girl's parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, who often have made themselves unavailable to investigators.

''A park ranger from Lincoln City came to our house and nearly tore it apart looking for possible clues,'' Rosemary said. ''But that was fine with us. Whatever it took to find Kathy.''

Despite what happened to their daughter, the Kohms want to someday retire to Mariah Hill, a town near Santa Claus in southern Indiana, Rosemary said.

''Victims of such tragedies don't just disintegrate,'' she said. ''The anger doesn't go away, but it doesn't have to destroy or cripple you.''

UPDATE

Police who hoped to use new DNA techniques in the 1981 slaying of 11-year-old Kathy Kohm disclosed that testing has failed to establish any link to the only suspect in the case.

Stanton Gash, a former Evansville firefighter, committed suicide after investigators arrived at his Florida home to obtain forensic samples from him.

Sgt. Joe Vetter, manager of the crime laboratory for the Indiana State Police in Evansville, confirmed that no DNA evidence could be found to tie Gash to the crime, despite several weeks of forensic testing.

"I'm comfortable (the DNA evidence) is not there," Vetter said. "I don't think there is anybody in the country who could find it."

Vetter said: "We knew it was a long shot, but given the circumstances of the case ... it wasn't like we were going at this thing with a 50/50 chance. We knew there was only a slight chance of success."

The investigation into Kohm's slaying has been ongoing since her decomposed body was found in June 1981, more than two months after she disappeared while jogging near her home in Santa Claus, Ind. She had been raped and shot in the head.

Gash, 50, was linked to the slaying after a Spencer County man told police he pulled Gash's car from a muddy area where Kohm's body was found. The witness said he pulled Gash's car on the same day Kohm disappeared.

Police discovered Gash was in the area and asked him to meet for a interview, but he never showed up. Instead, he left a note with his wife saying he left town and that he was sorry.

Gash was never charged in the death, but he was found liable in a 1983 civil suit filed by Kohm's parents and was ordered to pay them $5,000. He continued to be the only suspect in the crime.

The case sat dormant for several years until Spencer County Prosecutor Jon Dartt met with investigators and asked them to take DNA samples from Gash, who had since moved to Florida.

Less than a week after the samples were taken, Gash, a former Evansville firefighter, was found dead in his Florida home. Investigators vowed to continue DNA tests to provide closure for the Kohm family.

Police took blood samples from Kohm's parents to complete the victim's DNA profile, damaged due to advanced decomposition. Samples taken from Kohm's body were to be compared to hair, blood and saliva samples taken from Gash.

Investigators tested about 20 items, including Gash's .22-caliber rifle and several items of Kohm's clothing, according to court records. In addition, tests were unable to determine that portions of automobile floor matting found on Kohm's body came from Gash's car.

"We could not find a human hair on that matting to link her to that matting," Vetter said.

"The only thing we have left is trace evidence we have sent to Indianapolis for testing," he continued. "But, I'm satisfied we've done everything humanly possible to get DNA evidence in this case."

The case was the first for DNA testing to be done locally, and Vetter was disappointed the results weren't more favorable.

However, DNA testing continues to provide clues to cases that would otherwise be unprovable, he said.

"Realistically looking at this case, even it happened this year with the shape of the body when it was discovered and the fact that it was exposed to the elements for weeks and weeks it would be a long shot now," Vetter said.

"We spent a lot of hours and efforts doing this, but the bottom line is we just struck out."



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