Young waitress\' killer never found
Monday, December 22, 2008
MOSCOW - The Tip Top Cafe was a typical small-town eatery in late 1969, with both sit-down and drive-in menus served by waitresses and carhops.
And then, during the Sunday evening of Dec. 28, after all the customers had left and 18-year-old waitress Janice Lynn Foiles was preparing to close, a yet-to-be-explained tragedy struck. Foiles, a Moscow High School graduate and freshman at the University of Idaho, was found bludgeoned to death behind the cafe counter.
"We believe this is an isolated incident," Moscow Police Sgt. Dave Williams told news media after the killing. "It does not seem to be the work of a psychopath."
One month later, Moscow Police Capt. Robert Means was quoted in news stories as saying, "Our investigation has turned up several productive leads. We believe we're narrowing the field."
Today, six days short of exactly 39 years since Foiles died, police have no suspects and the case remains inactive.
"Obviously, any time we have a homicide case that's unsolved, the case remains open," says Sgt. David Lehmitz of the Moscow Police Department. "It's never officially closed. But it's not active until we have some leads to follow up on."
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The Tip Top Cafe, located in what is now the Post Office Square Shopping Center at the corner of Third and Jefferson streets, went out of business decades ago. In its place, The Lock Shop and Headquarters Hair Salon continue to operate on opposite sides of a wall that divides what used to be the cafe.
"I think just behind this wall is where the counter would have been," says Gary Crabtree, owner of The Lock Shop. "Where the hairdresser is now."
Headquarters owner Karla Atkinson, 30, says she and others at the salon, especially some of her older customers, know of the murder. "I know it was unsolved. I know someone took a sledgehammer to her or something."
Actually, say police, a claw hammer was most likely the murder weapon. Such a hammer, with one claw missing, was reportedly kept behind the cafe counter and used for small repairs. "And that (the hammer) came up missing and was never found," says Moscow Police Chief Dan Weaver, who worked as a reserve in 1969. "So it was assumed by investigators that that could have been the instrument used."
The day of the murder had apparently been a slow one at the Tip Top, with students home on holiday break and people getting ready to celebrate New Year's later in the week. Foiles, according to newspaper accounts at the time, was said to have been found clutching the day's receipts in her hand - a total of $17.
"Looking at the crime scene photos," Lehmitz says after reviewing the case file, "it would appear that obviously robbery or some kind of sexual assault was not the motive. So that would more than likely lead you to believe it was a crime of passion. Obviously, with the multiple blows, too, there's some rage involved."
Perhaps the work of a spurned boyfriend?
"There were ex-boyfriends who were interviewed," Lehmitz says. "There were other people developed who possibly had some type of motive. So there were numerous people that were interviewed on this case."
But none rose to the level of suspect.
"Obviously you have your own personal beliefs about what may have occurred," Lehmitz says. Asked for his opinion, Lehmitz balked. "I don't want to say that. There was never enough evidence gathered to produce a criminal charge that prosecutors felt was enough to make it through the court system."
If the killer was a peer, he or she would now be pushing 60 years old.
"It makes you hope that maybe, on their death bed or something, they'll confess," Weaver says. "Things like that have happened in the past."
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Foiles, who was born in Coeur d'Alene, spent two of her high school years in Boise and her last two at Moscow High School. Her picture is in the "Bear Tracks" school yearbook, arranged alphabetically among her classmates and annotated with credit for being a member of the French and Pep Clubs, as well as active in American Field Service, the school's foreign exchange program.
"Janice had always been a quiet girl, never taking much part in school activities or dating," her father, Marvin Foiles, was quoted as saying in a newspaper story almost two months after his daughter's death. "She was just beginning to come out of her shell and have fun in her life when this happened."
Marvin Foiles and Randall Foiles, Janice's brother, found her at the Tip Top. When she failed to come home on that Sunday night, they eventually went looking. Their discovery, around 3:30 the next morning, was at least six hours after the crime, according to police reports.
Around 8:40 on the night of the murder, a Moscow police officer making routine rounds noted that lights were still on at the Tip Top, according to press accounts at the time. But that wasn't unusual for closing time, and he didn't check.
"The lights were on and they believe she was in the process of closing," Lehmitz says, "because it looked like, at least it appeared she was counting the till out."
Crabtree says police over the years have come into his lock shop, looked at the old black-and-white photograph of the Tip Top Cafe he has hanging on the wall and asked a few questions. "Every time a new cop comes on the force, they'd come in here and look at the picture and kind of look around. But it's so old and cold, I doubt if anything is going to happen."
His words seem to punctuate those of Marvin Foiles (now deceased) at the time of his daughter's death. "I don't suppose we'll ever get over it."
Janice Foiles' mother, Carma Foiles, still lives in Moscow and all but confirms her late husband's prediction. She declined a Lewiston Tribune request for an interview, saying she and other family members have tried to move on.
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As for the investigation, police say Janice Foiles' murder has never been and never will be permanently shelved, until and if it's solved. "All our cold cases have been looked at by other agencies, including state and federal," Lehmitz says. "This one as well."
More than a decade ago, police reinvigorated the case by publicly disclosing the murder weapon may have been a claw hammer. "And, of course, people were bringing in claw hammers from all over," recalls Weaver. None proved to be the missing and suspected hammer. Nor are police soliciting more hammers.
"If somebody found one in a house tucked up under an eve or something," says Weaver, "then we would certainly be interested. We could trace back to who lived in the house. But if it's out in a public spot, I don't know what good that would do us at this point."
If the truth be known, says Lehmitz, police know more about the case than they're willing to disclose. For example, he says, the crime scene hasn't been really described. "That's a piece you hold back, in case a person wants to confess, you want to be able to corroborate their confession with what was at the scene."
As for the likelihood of eventually solving the case, Weaver isn't averse to soliciting help from anyone, even the killer.
"It's like a lot of the cases that you (the Tribune) have looked at around the region where a suspect has not been identified," says the chief. "Somebody out there knows something. Either the perpetrator, or maybe the perpetrator has talked to somebody or something. And we're just hoping that at some point in time somebody will come forward and say, 'Hey, this person did it.' "
Johnson may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 883-0564.