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Thursday, May 5, 2016

As seen on TV? Unsolved case reminder it's never that easy

Friday, August 31, 2012

If Randy Seipel were Columbo, he'd have had this murder case wrapped up a year ago.

If the Greencastle Police Department were the 5-0 of Hawaii, the killer of Essie McVey would have been behind bars last Labor Day.

But this isn't "CSI: Greencastle" or "Law and Order: Putnam County Unit." It's real life.

And that means real police work, real evidence and real facts are necessary before any crime scene rolls over into a court case and a conviction.

The public, however, has been lulled into misconceptions about crime and punishment. While we've all heard that the wheels of justice turn slowly, we're also numbed into thinking murder cases can be wrapped up in tidy, little 58-minute packages that still leave two minutes for station identification at the end of every procedural drama on TV.

Det. Seipel certainly knows the public can be demanding and often overly critical, but no more so than the 25-year GPD veteran is of himself as he endures the most frustrating homicide case of his career (and the only unsolved murder among seven city homicides during his tenure).

The McVey case reached the one-year mark Thursday without resolution.

"It's not like it is on television," Seipel assured as he mulled the yearlong murder investigation earlier this week.

"Unfortunately it's not as clear cut as they make it. It's not absolutely clear cut that if someone comes into your home, they're going to leave trace evidence behind."

With no smoking gun, no vital physical evidence, and no eyewitnesses to anything unusual occurring in Greencastle's Autumn Glen Village condos between 9 and 10:25 a.m. on Aug. 30, 2011, Seipel is left to go back over the same limited evidence and information time and time again, hoping to get a different result. (Last time I checked, that was the definition of insanity.)

"A good criminal case has a balance of eye-witness testimony, physical evidence and other factors," Seipel said. "We're certainly lacking in the eye witness area.

"Unfortunately," the detective added, "a lot of communities have unsolved homicides. You just don't think about it happening here."

While the McVey case is the city's only unsolved murder on Det. Seipel's watch, the county has had a pair during his time here as a local detective:

-- The mysterious June 25, 2007 death of Albert O'Neal, 55, who was shot and killed in his home on County Road 900 East near Coatesville.

-- The equally strange Aug. 13, 2003 beating death of the reclusive Bernadine Webster, 89, in her Russellville home.

Seipel's pursuit of the McVey murderer has motivated him to regularly check out similar crimes with similar victims. He happened upon one in rural Iowa recently, which was finally solved after 20 years when the killer -- who had been a person of interest in the case for years -- finally came forward and said he couldn't live with himself any longer.

"You always hope the right person will come forward and give the right information or the right piece of evidence will rear itself up," Seipel said, hoping for a similar result but a much shorter timeframe.

While criminals have been known to brag to associates about their nefarious activities, nothing has yet materialized from any jailhouse occupant looking to sweeten his deal with a little crime-solving info either.

"Sometimes the right person goes to jail," Seipel said, "and people (on the outside perhaps no longer living in fear) are more likely to give up the right information."

Short of that happening, it appears as though Seipel and his fellow investigators will have to be patient. He keeps in regular contact with the victim's family and knows the aspects of the 2011 case inside and out.

He is also known to take the murder case binder with him on the road whenever he's at investigative schools, asking other detectives to look over the pages of notes and details with fresh eyes, hoping they might see something he has not over the past 365 days.

"I'll ask them to take this (the binder of case files) to your room and look it over tonight and tell me, 'Are we missing anything?'

"The general consensus," Seipel laments, "is that 'You're waiting for a break.'"

Naturally, the family doesn't want to accept that. Nor does a community still horrified at how an 85-year-old woman can be shot and killed in her own living room in broad daylight without anyone seeing or hearing anything or knowing anything about the perpetrator.

"I've heard people say (in various cases), 'You've got DNA, just send it off,'" he said. "It doesn't work that way if you don't have a suspect. It's not like it is on TV, believe me."

Unless perhaps we're talking about "Unsolved Mysteries" ... Cue Robert Stack and that spooky staccato music. Looks like we can use all the help we can get.