Police search for woman missing 21 years

Friday, December 10, 2004

What began 21 years ago as a missing person case has over the years evolved into a homicide case for Lt. David James of the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department. He hopes recent discoveries will soon help him bring the case to a close.

The day before Thanksgiving 1983, Linda Jean Crites was reported missing. After 21 years, no one holds much hope that she'll ever be found alive, but James said he would like to bring closure to her family, even if finding her body does not lead to a conviction.

James and a group of investigators recently have been searching an area near the Beechwood Fishing Club about four miles south of Gordonville, just in case whoever may have killed Crites buried her there. James said he became aware of a dispute some residents had been having over property lines, and by chance he learned that Crites's husband, Lou, is still a member of that hunting club.

"Over the years we could not eliminate her husband as a suspect," James said. "Hardly anybody is there after September, and she came up missing in November. They were getting a divorce. She had a boyfriend. He was the last one to see her alive, the last one to talk to her."

Accounts at that time reported that although the couple was getting a divorce, they still lived in the same house. Her son, Ricky Fischer, spoke to her on the phone the day she was last seen about plans for the next day's Thanksgiving dinner. She had planned to come to her mother's home for Thanksgiving along with her two brothers and one sister.

Lou Crites told investigators at the time that around midnight he went into her bedroom to talk about their impending divorce. They argued, he told investigators, then he left and she closed the bedroom door. It was still closed the next morning when he said he left to go to his parents' home in Sedgewickville. Her family eventually came looking for her Thanksgiving day.

"Somehow, some way on Nov. 23,1983, she vanished from her home," James said.

Because of family discord at the time, it was a week before anyone actually reported her missing. One by one, suspects were ruled out, except for Lou Crites, James said.

Lou Crites still lives in the area. James said that Crites cooperated with investigators, but stopped talking when it became apparent that he was a major suspect. His attorney now prohibits investigators from contacting Crites.

So when James learned that Lou Crites still has an interest in that fishing club, the area became a place of interest. The club has a swimming pool, a picnic area and a lot of woods on about nine acres of property, James said.

"We have reason to believe it would be a good spot for a body to be at," he said. "We have to eliminate it as a possibility. We're doing a little searching, a little probing and a little digging."

Some highly-trained cadaver dogs the FBI owns have been doing a little sniffing in the area as well, James said. Investigators and dogs have combed over most of the property, but James said there are a few places recent rains have rendered inaccessible for now. As soon as it dries out, they'll bring in some heavy equipment, bring back the dogs and resume the search.

Even though they're searching for a woman who may have died 21 years ago, James said that the cadaver dogs can be effective. The FBI's cadaver dogs, he said, found a body near the Iowa border in a frozen creek last year; the person had been dead since 1986.

"They're some of the best dogs in the country," he said. "They have indicated to us that we need to continue searching."

James said he will continue to search until they either find Linda Crites' remains or eliminate that area as a place of interest.

"If we can't make a case, we can't make a case," he said. "We can't just let it go. I would like to find the body to give back to her family and give her a good burial."

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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