Top 10 stories of 2007

Monday, December 31, 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)

Mysterious murders were finally solved and new familial murders were committed, falls from grace contrasted with the courage of a little girl fighting a disease with a big name, and crops and airline flights dried up. These stories dominated the headlines in 2007.

A confession solved five murders that had haunted Cape Gir-ardeau for 30 years, murder-suicides in Jackson and Perryville took six more lives and a Scopus, Mo., woman who claimed intruders killed her boyfriend was charged with his murder.

A federal judge sentenced a state representative with a squeaky clean image to prison for immigration fraud, the NCAA wiped out season records compiled by some highly successful Redhawks women's basketball teams due to recruiting violations, and the Cape schools jettisoned the superintendent hired to right the ship.

Applause greeted the long-anticipated opening of Southeast Missouri State University's new River Campus and Sahara Aldridge's valiant struggle against brain stem cancer.

Drought and an early freeze ruined crops, while for commuters the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport virtually became a no-fly zone.

Southeast Missourian staffers ranked the year's top 10 stories. Easily topping the list, an Illinois inmate linked by DNA testing to one of the unsolved murders in Cape Girardeau confessed to the others in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. Mother-daughter Mary and Brenda Parsh and Southeast Missouri State University student Sheila Cole were killed in 1977, and in 1982 Margie Call and Mildred Wallace died in their homes at the hands of the same killer.

The resolution of the cases drew national media attention and inquiries from other police departments into the serial killer's involvement with their own unsolved murders. He already has admitted to another in Marion, Ill.

In early December a Jackson man whose wife had just gotten an ex parte order shot to death her 16-year-old son Michael Jeffers and their 4-year-old daughter Madison. He critically wounded their 2-year-old daughter Meagan and injured his wife Katherine before killing himself.

Two weeks later in Perryville, a husband shot to death his 55-year-old wife, Diane Moore, and her 54-year-old brother-in-law Dennis Stanfill. He also wounded Allen Kennon, 46, before killing himself,

Both communities mourned.

Shannon and Amy Aldridge stood together surrounded by memories of their daughter, Sahara, prior to a celebration of life service at Lynwood Baptist Church in November. (Fred Lynch)

Mourning was called for in November with the death of of 13-year-old Sahara Aldridge. For 17 months "Hoops" fought a glioblastoma tumor with the same tenacity she was known for as a point guard on the basketball court. Her family, her teammates and classmates at Central Junior High School, family friends and church members formed the core group of Sahara support, but they were not alone.

Pictures of Sahara Aldridge with musician Rick Springfield were on display at a celebration of life service in her honor at Lynwood Baptist Church. (Fred Lynch)

Rock and soap opera star Rick Springfield was as much a fan of Sahara's as she was of him. They met backstage at one of his concerts, many years before cancer was discovered on her brain stem. He publicized her struggle with the disease on his Web site. Last December Springfield performed for 1,700 who attended a benefit concert for her at the Show Me Center. He sang again for the 500 people who attended her funeral service at Lynwood Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau.

The murders in Cape Gir-ardeau and Perry counties were preceded by another in Bollinger County in July. Forty-nine-year-old Michael Strong was allegedly killed by his girlfriend, who blamed intruders, according to Bollinger County prosecutor Steven Gray. At Lisa Barlow's preliminary hearing, a neighbor reported hearing a gunshot an hour before the girlfriend called 911.

Robert Cerchio, assistant administrator at the River Campus, pulls the curtain closed in the new dance studio, blocking the view of the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge.

Southeast's River Campus opened in the fall to good reviews from students and townspeople.

Extreme drought gripped Southeast Missouri in 2007, the kind meteorologists expect to occur only every 10 to 50 years.

Cape Girardeau had only 0.01 of an inch of rain in August, breaking the previous record low of 0.22 inches in August 1996.

Along with a hard freeze at Easter that particularly damaged fruit trees, the drought seriously decreased crop yields.

Dr. David Scala came to the Cape Girardeau schools in 2005 with the assignment of putting its financially struggling house in order. The superintendent was given a contract extension early in 2007 and were cut loose without explanation at the end of the year as the school board dealt with accounting problems that included a $700,000 error.

The Cape Girardeau Regional Airport couldn't serve commuter passengers for most of the year. The FAA grounded RegionsAir in March, and replacement Big Sky couldn't get planes in the air until November. In late December Big Sky announced that bad weather, high fuel prices and poor revenue would force it to cease operations in the eastern part of the U.S. Jan. 7. The company president has said it will do so despite a federal order to keep flying until replacement carriers are found.

1. Police solve five cold-case murders

On Dec. 10, Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle charged Illinois inmate Timothy Krajcir with five counts of first-degree murder for slayings that occurred in Cape Girardeau in 1977 and 1982. Krajcir confessed to killing Mary Parsh and daughter Brenda Parsh and Southeast college student Sheila Cole in 1977 and to killing Margie Call and Mildred Wallace in 1982. He also was charged with three counts of rape in connection with the killings.

Swingle allowed Krajcir to avoid the death penalty in exchange for the confessions, a decision the families of the women concurred with.

2. Six dead in Jackson and Perryville murder-suicides

On Dec. 16, authorities say, Dennis Moore shot and killed his wife, Diane, and her brother-in-law Dennis Stanfill of Barnhart, Mo., before killing himself at a gated community in Perryville. Allen Kennon of Perryville, who had gone to help Diane Moore retrieve her belongings from the house, was seriously injured in the shooting.

Family members of Katherine Moshiri, one of the five victims in the Jackson shooting Monday night, December 3, 2007, went to their vehicle after being told the news at the crime scene at 333 Mary St. (Kit Doyle)

The murder-suicide occurred two weeks after Mir Shahin Moshiri shot and killed his wife Katherine's 16-year-old son Michael Jeffers and the Moshiris' 4-year-old daughter Madison. Meghan Moshiri, 2, also was shot and hospitalized in St. Louis in serious condition. The Dec. 3 shootings injured Katherine Moshiri.

3. Nathan Cooper sentenced to prison for immigration fraud

On Dec. 10, a federal judge sentenced former state representative Nathan Cooper to 15 months in prison for his role in a scheme to set up shell companies to hide the identities of trucking companies hiring foreign drivers as seasonal workers. Before and after his election to the legislature Cooper specialized in immigration law.

Cooper also forfeited $50,000 in legal fees from the trucking companies he worked for and was fined $6,000.

He previously resigned from his seat in the House and his licenses to practice law were suspended.

4. NCAA orders Southeast women's basketball team to vacate record

In early October, the NCAA Committee on Infractions struck the Southeast women's basketball team's records from 2002-2003 season through the 2005-2006 season from the books. The decision was based on findings that the basketball program intentionally committed a large number of serious violations.

B.J. Smith, the women's coach during that period, was placed on administrative leave in November 2006 after a preliminary inquiry found that a number of violations had occurred ranging from providing transportation to prospects to free rent. Smith resigned in early December 2006.

Smith has requested a full appeal hearing, which could be held in April or June. The university also is appealing the NCAA decision.

Lisa Barlow, left, was led to the Bollinger County Jail by Eric Sarakas and Chief Deputy Leo McElrath after her arraignment Tuesday morning, August 15, 2007, at the Bollinger County Courthouse. (Kit Doyle)

5. Lisa Barlow charged with murdering boyfriend

Lisa Barlow told investigators that intruders broke in late on July 27 and shot her boyfriend, Michael Strong, in the Scopus, Mo., home they shared. But she was charged with his murder after evidence presented at a preliminary hearing contradicted her story.

Circuit Judge William L. Syler granted her a change of venue to St. Louis County and expected to begin hearing the case next summer. But earlier this month Bollinger County Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Gray asked for a change of judge, a petition Syler rejected on the grounds that it wasn't filed in time. Gray still has options for replacing the judge, including dismissing the case and refiling the charges.

6. Southeast unveils River Campus

The Donald C. Bedell Performance Hall is the centerpiece of Southeast Missouri State's new $50 million River Campus. University president Dr. Ken Dobbins welcomed a nearly full house at the 940-seat hall for dedication ceremonies Oct. 21. The Robert F. and Gertrude L. Shuck Music Recital Hall and the Wendy Kurka Rust Flexible Theatre, the Rosemary Berkel and Harry L. Crisp II Southeast Regional Museum, the John and Betty Glenn Convocation Center and renovated classrooms complete the transformation of the former Catholic seminary into the university's new visual and performing arts school.

"Big River," Roger Miller's musical based on "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," officially opened Bedell Performance Hall three days later, selling out many of the nights.

7. Sahara Aldridge's fight for life

Thirteen-year-old Sahara Aldridge's battle with brain stem cancer ended Nov. 5. Rock star Rick Springfield had performed a benefit concert for her at the Show Me Center last December, raising close to $60,000. Sahara underwent progressively radical treatments at the tumor continued to grow, completing one in California just before her death. Sahara's love for life ultimately inspired many who didn't even know her.

8. Record-breaking drought devastates crops

A late freeze in April and a drought that extended throughout the summer severely hurt Southeast Missouri crops. In November, Cape Girardeau, Scott, Perry and Bollinger counties were among 25 counties in the 8th Congressional District that qualified for emergency federal loans. At the beginning of June, a freeze disaster was declared in Union and Alexander counties in Southern Illinois. Most of Missouri was included in the declaration in late June.

Hay was particularly affected by the drought, doubling the price per bale.

9. Cape schools dump superintendent

The Cape Girardeau School Board voted to relieve superintendent Dr. David Scala of his duties. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

Without explanation, the Cape Girardeau School District placed superintendent Dr. David Scala on administrative leave in November and terminated his contract Dec. 19. This occurred after the board had extended Scala's contract through June 2010 last February and after the 62-year-old Scala announced last October that he would retire at the end of the school year. The board also accepted the resignation of finance director Brenda McCowan after an audit discovered a $700,000 mistake.

Pat Fanger, who had been an assistant superintendent, was named interim superintendent.

10. Cape Girardeau Regional Airport loses two commuter airlines

In March the FAA grounded RegionsAir's entire fleet because of inadequate training of line check airmen, the inspectors who evaluate the competence of the airline's pilots. The Cape Girardeau Regional Airport was without commuter air service until RegionsAir's replacement, Big Sky Airlines, began operating in November. Big Sky was a controversial choice to replace RegionsAir, primarily because its connections with the major airlines are in Cincinnati rather than in St. Louis.

On Dec. 19, Big Sky Airlines announced it would discontinue operations in the eastern U.S. effective Jan. 7. The U.S. Department of Transportation ordered Big Sky to continue flying beyond that date, but Big Sky president Fred de Leeuw said the company will not do so.

Top 10 stories of 2007

1. Police solve five cold-case murders after serial killer confesses.

2. Six dead, two injured after Jackson and Perryville murder-suicides

3. State Rep. Nathan Cooper caught in immigration scheme.

4. NCAA committee says Southeast women should vacate wins, including first OVC title

5. Lisa Barlow charged in the murder of her boyfriend

6. Southeast unveils the River Campus

7. Sahara Aldridge's community support and fight against cancer

8. Drought devastates area crops, breaks records for longest stretch of above-90 degree temperatures

9. Dr. David Scala out as Cape Girardeau School District superintendent.

10. Cape Girardeau airport service fiasco

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