New Answers in Oklahoma Cold Cases


Cold cases are those for which the investigation has no new leads. Typically, a "cold case" is one which remains unsolved for several years, but some agencies, according to the National Institute of Justice, refer to a cold case as "any case whose probative investigative leads have been exhausted," meaning that a case could become "cold" after a relatively short time.

It is a big week for cold cases in Oklahoma, with sentencing due today in a former cold case, the identification of six bodies pulled from two cars found in a lake in western Oklahoma, and an arrest made in a 17-year-old rape case.

The first case involves the 2008 murder of two girls in Weleetka. On a summer day in June, Taylor Paschal-Placker, 13, and her best friend, Skyla Jade Whitaker, 11, were walking home in the small Oklahoma town when they were gunned down in an apparently random act of violence. For three years, police had no leads, and it seemed as if the case would never been solved. Then, in 2011, police investigating the murder of 23-year-old Ashley Taylor found gun shells matching the weapon used to kill the two girls. Kevin Sweat, Ashley Taylor's fiancee, was arrested. He avoided the death penalty by waiving his right to a jury trial, and on July 31, 2014, he pleaded guilty to all three murders. His sentencing is scheduled for today. UPDATE: Kevin Sweat is sentenced to three life terms without parole.

Also this week, DNA test results came back positively identifying the bodies of six people who were reported missing up to 45 years ago. Just over a year ago, police in Sayre, Oklahoma, were testing sonar equipment in Foss Lake when they discovered two submerged vehicles three feet apart in the lake. The 1952 Chevrolet and the 1969 Chevrolet Camaro each held six bodies. While the ages, genders, and vehicles matched descriptions of missing persons from 1969 and 1970, the families got official closure this week as the last of the bodies were positively identified through DNA analysis.

The 1952 vehicle contained the bodies of three adults missing since April 8, 1969: John Alva Porter, 69; Cleburn Hammack, 42; and Nora Marie Duncan, 58. The 1969 Camaro contained the bodies of three teenagers missing since 1970: Jimmy Allen Williams, 16; Leah Gail Johnson, 18; and Thomas Michael Rios, 18. The Medical Examiner listed a cause of death as accidental drowning for all six victims.

DNA is also responsible for an arrest in the rape of an elderly woman in December 1997. Moena House was robbed, beaten, and sexually assaulted on Christmas Day, but the attack remained unsolved for nearly two decades. Just before the statute of limitations for filing charges would have expired, an OSBI agent filed a warrant based off of a DNA profile found on the victim. DNA matched that collected from David Jerome Stephens II, 35, in a 2013 drug conviction. Stephens was arrested earlier this week at his home in Guthrie. House died in 2008, before she could see justice served in the assault.

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