NORMAL — Eighteen years separate the unsolved homicides of Jennifer Lockmiller and Carol Rofstad and without new leads, the deaths will remain placeholders on a list of cold cases reviewed annually by Normal police detectives.
Rofstad was a 21-year-old Illinois State University student when she was found beaten unconscious Dec. 23, 1975, outside an ISU sorority house. She died a day later from blows police think were inflicted with an 18-inch piece of railroad tie found near her body.
Jennifer Lockmiller was 22 and also an ISU student when her body was found in her apartment near campus in 1993. She had been strangled and stabbed.
No arrest has ever been made in the Rofstad case. Investigators interviewed two people, including a man considered to be a prime suspect, but apparently never accumulated enough evidence to charge him.
Alan Beaman, Lockmiller's former boyfriend, was charged with her murder based on the state's theory that he remained obsessed with her after their relationship ended.
He served about 13 years of a 50-year sentence before his conviction was reversed by the Illinois Supreme Court. He also has received a certificate of innocence from the state and a pardon from former Gov. Pat Quinn. Beaman recently asked the state Supreme Court to review a lower court's dismissal of his civil lawsuit against three former Normal officers who he claims framed him for the murder.
Beaman’s exoneration sent Lockmiller’s murder back to NPD.
The circumstances that put both cases on the department’s roster of unsolved cases differ, but police use similar tactics to try to solve them, said Lt. Paul Smith, head of NPD’s criminal investigations unit.
“We have to look at it like it’s a brand new case. We’re looking at everything, starting with reports, photos, what was written in the paper,” said Smith.
With each passing year, unsolved cases grow colder, and harder to solve, as officers who worked on the initial investigation retire and witnesses move away or die, said Smith, noting that he was 5 years old when Rofstad was killed “and now I’m in charge of the investigations unit that could potentially investigate it.”
To make a more complete record, detectives sometimes conduct new interviews with the investigators who originally handled the case. Decades-old reports don’t always provide full insight into how decisions were made, said NPD Chief Rick Bleichner.
“You don’t know how they came to eliminate people” as suspects, for example, said Bleichner.
New technology for forensic testing and requirements that suspect interviews in homicide investigations be video recorded also provide police with better information and records, said Bleichner.
The police chief acknowledged the Lockmiller case is unique in that there was “a specific event that showed us we needed to look at the evidence.” That event — Beaman’s exoneration — resulted in police doing a follow-up with the state crime lab and a private lab.
“As a result of the additional follow-up, we made a determination that we didn’t have probable cause to make an arrest” of an another potential suspect, said Bleichner.
He declined to name the other person discounted as a suspect by detectives 24 years ago. The man with whom Lockmiller was romantically involved had the motive and opportunity to kill her, according to lawyers for Beaman.
Both the Lockmiller and Rofstad cases have been moved to inactive status, meaning they are assigned to a detective for periodic review, but no investigative work or testing is pending, said Bleichner.
Unsolved sexual assaults also are among the handful of cold cases involving violence that are reviewed annually by NPD. Advancements in DNA testing make it possible in some cases to obtain information impossible to detect with prior technology, said Bleichner.
When an investigation leads to the arrest of the true perpetrator, the victim has a sense of closure, said Bleichner, adding that police who work the case share those same sentiments.
"There's a great deal of satisfaction on the part of the detectives and the department to bring closure to that case. We want to find out what happened," he said.