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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Unsolved Murders In The Mountain State

Resurrecting Nine WV Cold-Case Murders
by, Jack Swint . . WestVirginiaNews@gmail.com
Part One.... Like every other state in the country, WV has its own share of violent crimes, including murders and missing persons believed to be dead, that date back as far as this states birth in 1863. In our 3 part series, we will go back in time to resurrect 9 cold-case unsolved murders in the Mountain State.
Now, with the passing of time, authorities still hope that someone will come forward with new information that will allow investigators to finally bring the guilty to justice and closure to the victim’s family.

Take the short drive over the bridge from Weirton West Virginia into Steubenville Ohio and you could easily miss the fact you’d just crossed the state line. Residents in both communities go back and forth everyday as a part of life. Most people consider themselves apart of both small cities, and feel a bond as though they were all family.

So when one of their own children became missing, they became one community searching for answers as to why a teenage girl was kidnapped, raped and murdered so many years ago.
Like so many other schoolchildren, thirteen-year-old Barbara Barnes, pictured above, walked to and from school each day. Her family knew her as "Barbie," but the quiet girl was nothing like the flashy doll of that name. She had been blessed with intelligence, beauty, and friendliness but rarely spoke without being asked a question. Barbara was one of the brightest students in her eighth-grade class at Harding Middle School, where she sang in the choir. Friends recall she rarely spoke to anyone about her family, her poverty, or her father’s murder seven years prior to hers. Barbara Ann Barnes keeps her secrets to this day.

On December 7, 1995, Barbara vanished. No one realized she was gone until after 3 p.m. "She usually comes home after school," said Kathy Barnes, her mother, back in 1995 in a newspaper interview with local media." According to media accounts, her mother had missed phone calls from the school notifying her that Barbara was not there. The brown-haired, brown-eyed girl was last seen at the intersection of Brady Circle and Ridge Avenue just blocks from where she attended Harding Middle School in Steubenville.
Justin Rinehart, a classmate, noticed her walking ahead of him before he became distracted. He didn’t see her the next time he looked in her direction. At first, police treated her disappearance as a missing person’s case. Law enforcement, family, friends, and people who didn’t even know Barbara started to search. At the time, police sergeant Bob Villamagna was in charge of juvenile cases at the time. "Even if I retire I’ll never rest until this case is done," he said at the time. Children who walked to school along her route told investigators they couldn’t remember whether they’d seen Barbara the morning she disappeared. Once she vanished, the city of about 20,000 could talk of no one else.

Crews roamed wooded areas, riverbanks, and places like Union Cemetery, which sits right behind Barbara’s school. But searches turned up nothing. Days turned into weeks and months, but the family remained hopeful she’d return. But then, three months later on February 22, 1996, devastating news traveled back home. Surveyors near Clinton, Pennsylvania, had found a young girl’s body. Someone had dug a shallow grave in a creek bed; local police were called to the scene. "The surveyor took one last look at the stakes," said Officer Villamagna. "He wanted to go down the hill and look at these stakes again and make sure everything was the way it was supposed to be. And when he went down over the hill, he saw part of her body exposed."

The search was over. Barbara had been found. Her initial cause of death was strangulation. Back home, a community mourned and wanted to know how this could have happened to such a young, innocent girl. The case switched from finding Barbara to finding her killer. Police became overwhelmed with leads, calls, and even a psychic who had visions of how the murder happened. "There was a lot of information," Villamagna said. Police questioned suspects, some as far away as the desert southwest. But just when it looked like they were making progress, they hit roadblocks. They were no closer to finding the murderer, which prompted the FBI to offer a $90,000 reward. Villamagna admitted, "I can’t think of another crime that’s more horrendous than to do something to a child like that. If you can do what they did to that kid, you can do anything to anybody."

Barbara Barnes’ murder case has been routinely revisited as Steubenville police and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department follows up on any leads. But, the critical pieces of evidence are still out there, and law enforcement agencies remain optimistic they’ll find them. "Everyone that’s involved in this case is 99.9 percent sure who the perpetrator is but just can’t get that one little thing to lock the door on that case," Villamagna said. "Somebody knows something."

Barbara’s body was found within one and a half miles of a farm owned by a relative of Louis Boyce, Barbara’s uncle. Investigators took soil samples from shovels found on that property, but they didn’t match soil from the creek bed where Barbara’s body was found. Boyce was given a lie-detector test. According to law enforcement sources, "He flunked the polygraph miserably." But those test results are not admissible as court evidence. "If it was a stranger who picked her up, did she struggle? Why didn’t anybody see it?" asked Pete Basil, assistant superintendent of Steubenville’s school district and the former principal of Barbara’s middle school. "Why go way out into the woods, in another state, and bury her? Whatever happened that person felt he had to dispose of the body in a way that didn’t come back to Steubenville."

Anyone with information on this 14 year old murder is asked to contact the WV State Police Detachment at (304) 564-3854

Research and development for this story was made possible by the assistance of the Steubenville and Jefferson County Public Library, The Wheeling Intelligencer, Pittsburgh Post and Tribune-Review newspapers, Steubenville, Jefferson County and WV State Police. Along with the friends and family of Barbara Barnes and Jack Swint’s book, "Who Killed?…Pittsburgh PA.

Roberta "Robin" Elam was not actually a nun yet the day she was brutally murdered on June 13, 1977. The twenty-six-year-old woman was a pre-novitiate candidate. She was preparing a silent retreat at the "Mother House" by the order she intended to join for a life in Christ. Roberta was reportedly by herself in the field by the convent for the Sisters of Mt. St. Joseph to contemplate the commitment she was about to make.

According to regional newspaper accounts published shortly after her death, it appeared that while Roberta was kneeling to pray, she was attacked, raped, then strangled to death by hand and left near an overturned park bench. Her brutal rape and murder occurred within earshot of the Speidel Golf Course, but no one there heard a thing. A sister in the Order of Mt. St. Joseph was quoted in news stories explaining why she felt Roberta might have been out in that field near the golf course. "It is always peaceful and quiet there."

A caretaker discovered her body behind an overturned bench at 2 p.m., a few hours after she had grabbed an apple from the kitchen and walked up the hill with her Bible. The brazenness of the midday attack at a holy place outraged people in Wheeling and the Tri-State area.

Everyone remembered her as a brilliant, gregarious young woman who drove an orange sports car, jogged and hiked, wrote poetry about the mountains that soared above them and laughed as often as possible. The oldest of four children, Roberta grew up in Minnesota and Illinois. While in graduate school at Fordham University, she became a friend with fellow student Sister Kathleen Durkin.

Inspired by a pastoral letter written in 1975 by Catholic bishops from Appalachian states, Miss Elam went to work for the Wheeling-Charleston diocese after earning her master's degree in religious education. Over the next two years, her friendship with Sister Kathleen deepened while they traveled and taught adult religion classes in small towns around the state. In the fall of 1976, she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph and moved into its mother house the next June. She was spending eight days devoted to prayer and contemplation in its retreat house when she was killed.

Now-retired West Virginia State Police homicide investigator Don Shade was called to lead the investigation two weeks after the murder. By the time he saw the murder scene, Shade said, "cigarette ashes were all over the place," and the chances of obtaining any forensic evidence were slim. Even two weeks after the murder, an area of nearby weeds remained mashed down, indicating the killer had lain in wait for her. Shade said Elam’s killer was "very strong" and crushed her larynx. Police obtained blood samples from everyone they could think of, from golfers to priests, and tried hypnosis on witnesses.

They released a drawing of a white man in his 30s, with dirty, dark hair, bushy eyebrows, a mustache and a beard who had been seen near the Mount St. Joseph grounds. They sought but never found a rusty, gray or faded-blue Chevrolet or Buick, festooned with religious and coal-mining bumper stickers, that had been parked on nearby Pogue's Run Road.

Police said there was nothing in her background that was even remotely dangerous or unsavory. She was what you'd expect a woman becoming a nun to be and people who knew her were eliminated leaving investigators all evidence pointed to a stranger. Those are the most difficult cases to solve because there is no hard trail to the suspect. Despite the intensive investigation, no arrests have ever been made or motive found in Roberta’s death.

The State Police lab extracted a DNA sample that, investigators believe, came from Miss Elam's killer, according to state police Sgt. Danny Swiger who hopes someday they will make an arrest and conviction for her brutal murder.

Convicted WV murderer Eugene Blake, pictured to the left, was also considered after Department of Corrections documents exposed the distinct possibility that Blake may have been roaming around the Wheeling area in the mid 1970s when he was serving life without the possibility of parole in the state penitentiary at Moundsville. But, DNA evidence was not linked to Blake. Authorities went as far as to say they also believed that a second killer could have been with him at the time.

According to authorities, "It is possible that there could have been two subjects involved in the Elam matter and the DNA evidence could have belonged to a second subject, realizing that Blake was reportedly out of the prison walls on occasion during his incarceration. One question about Blake was never addressed… if he was serving a life sentence without parole, how would he have been able to be "roaming around" the Wheeling area?

If you have information on the murder of sister Roberta Elam, you are asked to contact Sergeant Danny Swiger with the Cold Case Unit at (304) 329-1101 or Ohio County Deputies at (304)234-3741 or contact your local State Police Detachment. The tip you give may help solve this horrible crime.

Research and development for this story was made possible by the assistance of the Ohio County Public Library, The Wheeling Intelligencer, Pittsburgh Post and Tribune-Review newspapers, WV State Police, the friends and family of Robin Elam and Jack Swint’s book, "Who Killed?...Pittsburgh PA.
Who Killed Newborn "Baby Christian"?
On or about March 20, 2004, someone wrapped a newborn baby boy into a pink sheet, then a white sheet, and then placed the bundled infant into a plastic trash bag along with three 5-pound dumbbells and tied it closed. Then, they placed that bag into another trash bag, tied it shut and tossed it all into the river near the US 340 bridge in Harpers Ferry WV.

The baby was found March 21, 2004 by a Harpers Ferry National Historical Park ranger who responded to the area for another call. The ranger thought the bag, which was found on the Harpers Ferry side of the river, contained garbage. After realizing that the bag was probably too heavy to contain only garbage, the ranger opened it and found the baby with the umbilical cord still attached.

According to authorities, they received many leads from the public and they were able to put together some convincing circumstantial evidence. Investigators, who named the infant "Baby Christian," were able to get DNA blood samples. In the early stages of the case, they were focusing on a Winchester, Virginia area woman, who they suspected might have been the baby's mother. Blood samples were obtained from that suspect and sent to the FBI lab in Washington DC. A year later, results came back negative for a match to the baby. DNA results were delayed because of a large workload at the FBI lab, which handles cases from around the world.

Former Jefferson County Sheriff Ed Boober said that he believed the suspect, at the very least, had knowledge about the case. Investigators are asking for anyone who knows about a baby who was unaccounted for about the time the baby was found to contact his department.

The sheriff's department can be reached at 304-728-3205

Research and development for this story was made possible by the assistance of the Berkeley County Public Library, WV State Police and the Herald-Mail Newspaper in Hagerstown MD.

Jack Swint - Publisher
West Virginia News
E-Mail:  WestVirginiaNews@gmail.com  
Website: http://WVNewsOnline.com  
Blog: http://WestVirginiaNews.blogspot.com  
Twitter:  @WVNewsOnline   
LinkedIn: Jack Swint

Also… Read Our Free Online Edition Depicting 130 Of Americas Lesser Known And Forgotten Killers: Resurrecting Murder



Anonymous said...

It seems that Barbara Ann Barnes" perpetrator is almost caught. Let's hope neighbors will take the time and love to remember that one thing to put the rapist and killer in a cell for life.
There is nothing worse than a child murderer who rapes before her last breath at life.

Anonymous said...

Your 3 cases, especially the one about the little baby being murdered, reminded me just how brutal we are as human beings. I pray to God someone comes forward and exposes the person who killed that little boy, Barbara Barnes and Sister Elam.

Anonymous said...

I agree with both statements above. And then send them straight to God to be judged for what they did!

Anonymous said...

I agree with all the comments. They just should send them to God to be judge for what they have done.

Anonymous said...

Jack, as always, good job! But when are you going to let people know you are now doing all this on your own! :)

Anonymous said...

No way you can do all this alone. :)
But to get to the point of all these terribly tragic stories, is it not the exact way all these animals in crime "work"? They go after the "submissive" ;never the violent or those equipped with the same sense of "brutality".
A child. A nun. A baby!
Fry them all.

Anonymous said...

Keep doing what you are doing, Jack and Sam. The world would be a better place for if we exposed one thing like you.

Anonymous said...

Alright. Have a few questions for Jack and Sam.
Are you grouping these three murders together because they may be the result of the same murderer and you are looking for a serial killer?
Is there any way to tell how old the mother was by the birth of that newborn child? Asking this because perhaps if it was a "girl" that was raped by this same guy, maybe she could not deal with it.
Finally, is it possible to just bring out the "girl" who was perhaps "victimized" or "raped" by someone and tell her there would be no charges in hopes of finding this rapist ? It's a needle in a haystack but you got to do what you got to do and you just might get a little closer.

West Virginia News said...

To answer the above questions...We did not group these murders because of any link to each other.

You raised good points about the mother of the baby. Police first thought theyd found her, but the DNA was not a match. They are still investigating that avenue.

Sister Roberta Elams murderer could be tied to 5 other unsolved murders in that region of Ohio & WV. Oddly enough, Steubenville (Barbara Barnes home) and Wheeling are close by. And there were some distinct similarities, both were strangled.

Anonymous said...

You see, just from a "female" perspective, the baby being wrapped in pink, perhaps it is her sad farewell in that she may have kept the baby if it had been a girl as a "girl" did not rape her and she might not have taken this course if it had been a female that was born. But the male baby, was far too big a load for her to carry. Every day she might look at that child and hate him because of the episode with perhaps, a rapist.
The pink wrapping was very key to me.

Anonymous said...

It was obviously the mother of the newborn as three 5 pound dumb bells are pretty easy to carry along with the infant. Total 25 pounds.
Pink blanket is important.

Anonymous said...

Any way since it is all around these racetracks, that someone connected to the cruelty of racing and elimination of Greyhounds has done this? Any dog hairs on any of the bodies or clothes?

Anonymous said...

good work tu the detectives... a friend of mine died in the mountain state in weirton an the murderer was not found either it pains my heart i even got a tattoo tu commemorate him i wish the world wasnt the way it is and instead of sending them one at a time up tu god GOD NEEDS TU COME HERE AND JUDGE US AS A WHOLE REAP WHAT U SOW LOVE AND LOVE WILL BE SHOWN PLEASE DONT GIVE UP ON THESE VICTIMS

Anonymous said...

Rape? No one was raped. Had someone been raped then everyone around her would have known about it.

This was a girl who kept quiet about her pregnancy and didn't want to deal with raising a child.

The pink blanket also means one thing. That the girl had a pink blanket. No more, no less.

West Virginia News said...

Here is a thought from the comments above. If she kept her pregnancy a secret, then she could have also kept it a secret IF she had been raped.

Pink blanket may or may not have any significance, but, it CANT be ruled out in the overall picture.

Hopefully someday someone will com forward with all of the answers, specifically, who killed this child!!

Anonymous said...

Well to be honest...i would say that the mother of Baby Christian did NOT put the baby in the river. She had someone helping her. I had 4 children, and i could guarantee that there is no way i was carrying a 20 or 25 pound bag of anything after giving birth. I could barely walk, there is no way she did it.

Anonymous said...

I lived about a mile away from where the Robin Elam murder took place. We used to see the nuns from Mount St. Joseph pass us every morning while waiting on school bus.My friends and I would walk up Pogues Run to get to Oglebay Park.It scares me to death that a murderer was roaming the exact spot we would walk.Sometimes I would walk alone because I babysat further up from the convent.It was 1977 and things were a lot different. You weren't afraid to walk alone. Until that happened. May Robin Elam rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

Maybe this person (Elam case) was a part of the church at one time. Strangulation takes time, and is extremely personal. He wanted her to see him, to feel him, and to die. Her death was a means to an end (dead men tell no tales) due to the fact he that he probably had raped before. That time, his victim may have reported it, and he was incarcerated for rape. He learned from his mistake. He needs to pay for this act, no matter his age.

Anonymous said...

What about all of the unsolved murders that have happened in Mason County since the 70's?

Harold Smith
Allen Rollins
Terry McCausland
Wesley Lee
Christina Rayburn
Jeromy Vanmeter
Susan Grimes
Sheila Wears, missing since the 70's
and many more!

Anonymous said...

I've read all of this and I thank it takes a sick sick person to murder anyone exspecially a helpless baby but until these murders are solved we'll never know what really happened!! I hope and pray to god they get caught but only the police and investigators can find the sick people or persons that did these horrible crimes and all the other unsolved crimes!!

Anonymous said...

I was brutaly raped right outside of morgantown heading into PA. i was only 14 it was 1978 . I was beaten thrown into a ditch of water and left for dead he thought i was dead im sure of it im now 50 and in search of this monster it has taken me a long time to get to this point. My memory was lost for a very long time due to head injury, but what i do remeber is this he drove a white van in which had rolls of new carpet as if he may work for a carpet company perhaps he smoked pall mall cigs. i saw a pack on his dash, he had black hair and blue eyes and a medium tone to his skin. I hope to God he did not go onto do this to others but i have a very bad feeling he done it before me and after

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Charleston, WV, United States