Illinois inmate Timothy Krajcir confesses to 5 unsolved Cape murders

Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Timothy W. Krajcir is escorted by Illinois Department of Corrections officers into the Jackson County Courthouse in Murphysboro, Ill. to enter his plea on charges of the 1982 murder of Debbie Sheppard on Monday, December 10, 2007. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

While watching the news over breakfast one morning, Detective Jim Smith saw that DNA evidence had tied Timothy W. Krajcir to the unsolved 1982 murder of Debborah Sheppard.

Hoping against hope, Smith, who since March had worked solely on six unsolved murders in Cape Girardeau, called the Carbondale, Ill., police department to see if there could be some connection between the killings.

He found one.

Monday morning, Krajcir pleaded guilty to the rape and murder of Sheppard, a Southern Illinois University-Carbondale student. He received a sentence of 40 years.

Monday afternoon, he was charged with the 1977 murders of Brenda and Mary Parsh, and Sheila Cole, the 1982 rapes and slayings of Margie Call, and Mildred Wallace, as well as another rape from 1982.

He confessed to a total of nine murders, but charges had not yet been filed in the others, police chief Carl Kinnison said at a news conference Monday where authorities unveiled the name of the suspected serial killer. Police said at least one of the murders being investigated is in the Paducah, Ky., area.

"It's a historic day in the history of crime and punishment in Cape Girardeau," said Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle at the news conference.

For the past two decades, the unresolved killings haunted the town as detectives worked to piece together the evidence and answer the questions that plagued law enforcement, family members and residents.

"I cannot think of anything we failed to do," said Lt. John Brown, now a campus police officer at Southeast Missouri State University, who had been lead detective on the homicides.

Brown kept a card file on his kitchen table where he included information about every person of interest in the case. He even recruited his wife and daughter in recording data, he said.

At one point, police had a witness, who believed he had seen Cole's car cross the bridge into Illinois. Police, desperate to solve the case, had the witness hypnotized to see how much detail he could recall, Brown said.

At another time, Brown thought they might have found the killer when a man confessed to the homicides.

They transported him to Cape Girardeau and spent an entire day interrogating him, only to find out he knew nothing about the murders and only wanted a free ride to Southeast Missouri.

"I can prove that a lot of people didn't do it," Brown said.

In 2003, some semen samples found at the scenes of the Call and Wallace murders were tested by the Missouri State Highway Patrol crime lab but failed to pinpoint a suspect because there was not enough usable genetic material to get a DNA profile.

At that time, Cape Girardeau detective Tracy Lemonds said a confession to the killings may be the last hope, the Southeast Missourian reported.

In March of this year, Cape Girardeau police detective Jim Smith took over investigating the unsolved homicides full time.

After DNA evidence tied Krajcir to the Sheppard murder, Smith realized the killing occurred between the murders of Call, on Jan. 27, and Wallace, on June 21, 1982. He contacted the Carbondale police department to inquire about whether Krajcir could have visited Cape Girardeau during those months.

At first, it seemed like another dead end.

"At that point, nothing linked Krajcir to anything in Missouri," said Lt. Paul Echols of the Carbondale police department.

Most of the details of the Sheppard murder did not match up with the way the other women had been killed, leaving police little to go on in tying Krajcir to the unsolved homicides, Echols said.

After DNA proved with a one-in-a-980 billion match that Krajcir killed Sheppard, Carbondale police continued to gather evidence against him -- and that's when law enforcement began to suspect he may have committed some crimes outside of Carbondale, Echols said.

Based on the way Sheppard was murdered, Echols developed a profile of the way Krajcir killed and submitted it to surrounding law enforcement agencies.

Then Lemonds compared the profile to an unsolved rape dating back to 1982. The details were identical to the rape of Sheppard.

"That's when we knew we were onto something," Echols said.

Now, police had something solid to go on: a strong suspect they could place in Cape Girardeau around the time of the killings, Kinnison said.

A DNA sample was obtained from the Wallace crime scene and preserved. Lemonds was an evidence technician at the time and distinctly remembers collecting the sample.

Smith was sitting at his desk at the Cape Girardeau police department when he got the call from the crime lab in Jefferson City: They had a relatively strong match. "It brought tears to my eyes," Smith said.

Kinnison described the results as a "cannot exclude" match.

According to Echols, that's about a one-in-720,000 match.

A few weeks later, Lemonds received a call from a former evidence technician with whom he had worked the Call and Wallace crime scenes and now is a crime analyst with the Southeast Missouri Crime lab.

He wanted Lemonds to look at a palm print that had been lifted from Wallace's home and compared to one taken from Krajcir.

That was the moment when Lemonds said he knew they had found their killer.

Smith immediately arranged to interview Krajcir at Big Muddy River Correctional Center in Ina, Ill., where Krajcir has been incarcerated for the last 10 years.

The 63-year-old former ambulance driver politely denied everything, Smith said.

He said he had never met Wallace, broke into her house or waited for her to get home, Kinnison said.

"The next best thing to a confession is a provable lie," Swingle said.

The palm print and DNA evidence tied him to the Wallace killing, and Swingle intended to seek the death penalty in the case, he said.

Then Krajcir mentioned he would be willing to listen to what police had to say about the other killings in the area if he knew death penalty was off the table.

"He said, 'I have nothing to live for, I'll be in prison for the rest of my life, but I don't have a death wish either,'" Smith said.

Swingle said he was set against the idea of agreeing to the arrangement, even to learn new information about the other murders, until he met with the surviving family members of the victims.

"They all agreed they'd rather find out the truth about what happened than seek the death penalty and have him take it to his grave," Swingle said.

He sent a letter to the prison, explaining that he would not seek the death penalty for the rape and murder of Wallace if Krajcir could provide accurate and detailed information leading to the resolution of the other unsolved murders.

Aware of the danger that Krajcir may falsely confess to the other murders simply to avoid the death penalty, Swingle said he insisted that Krajcir be able to provide information he could not have possibly learned from another source.

In November, the suspect provided Smith with details only the killer would know as he described raping and killing Brenda Parsh, Cole, Call and Wallace.

Police would not to elaborate on what it was Krajcir said that convinced them they had finally caught the killer.

He did not seem to show much remorse, Smith said.

Krajcir admitted to raping Brenda Parsh, Cole, Call and Wallace, but a legal technicality will bar rape charges from being filed in the Parsh and Cole homicides because the statute of limitations has run out, Swingle said.

According to a Nov. 21, 1977, Southeast Missourian article, autopsy reports said Cole had not been sexually assaulted.

There is no statute of limitations on any class A felony in Missouri, but it wasn't until 1980 that rape became a class A felony, so Krajcir cannot be charged for the 1977 rapes, Swingle said.

He faces a life sentence on each charge.

After the news conference, Brown said he felt as though a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

He said it seemed odd to think that if the case went to trial, he would have no aspect of the investigation to testify about, despite the investigation having occupied a constant presence in his mind since he was assigned the Parsh homicide in 1977.

"As I entered the pearly gates, I was going to ask St. Peter who did those killings," he said.

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