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'Cold cases' still haunt Central Illinois investigators

'Cold cases' still haunt Central Illinois investigators

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BLOOMINGTON - Three decades passed before a trial in the 1968 death of Coleen Uban. Seven-year-old Dalton Mesarchik's 2003 beating death has not been solved.

Normal police's investigation into the 1975 death of Carol Rofstad has been suspended, pending more evidence.

Though police say most homicides are solved quickly, the JonBenet Ramsey case illustrates it can take years to make arrests in some violent crimes.

And though few gather as much attention as the Colorado 6-year-old's 1996 death, McLean County still has what some would call "cold cases."

John Mark Karr, a 41-year-old teacher, was in a California jail cell Monday in connection with Ramsey's death.

He has told reporters he was with the girl when she died in 1996.

"When you have the crime, you dedicate a lot of resources to that up front, obviously, doing interviews, collecting evidence, all that stuff, and for some time after that trying to develop and follow-up on leads," said Normal Assistant Police Chief Rick Bleichner, later adding "You may have a major case with very few leads and, after a period of time, you know, you're going nowhere and the case will end up being suspended."

McLean County Lt. Mike Essig was involved in the investigation into Uban's death when the case was reexamined in the 1990s. The woman's parents came to police in 1994 to talk about her death in what was initially believed to be an auto accident outside Bloomington, he said.

"They came in and started talking to us about it, and we started digging a little bit and things just didn't add up," Essig said.

Investigators found a coroner's report was missing, received a court order to exhume her body and determined she had been strangled. The trial of her husband, Karl, ended in April 1998 when jurors deadlocked 9-3 in favor of acquittal.

Bleichner said information needed to revive suspended or inactive cases can come from new witnesses - such as people who did not want to come forward at the time of the crimes - or new technology that can better analyze previously collected evidence.

"When we first came up with DNA, it was great - they were able to go back and make arrests and convictions on people who, before, they couldn't," Bleichner said, adding it has also been able to exonerate others jailed or imprisoned.

Bloomington police are still looking for the person responsible for a hit-and-run accident Jan. 1, 2002, that killed Curtis Howard of Bloomington. And nobody has been arrested in the death of Vinsint Malone, 2, who died in July 1996 from internal injuries likely caused by someone striking him shortly before he died, authorities said.

No one has been convicted in the death of Gary Miller, a machinist last seen alive in August 1978, but Robert N. Gillespie was arrested in the case in 1996.

The charges were dropped five days before trial because of conflicting witness statements.

Bleichner said his department's only suspended homicide case is that of 21-year-old Carol Rofstad, an Illinois State University student who died after she was found beaten unconscious in December 1975.

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