The first of a 2-part series.
This is the first of a two-part series examining cases that are still under investigation by the Owensboro Police Department and the Daviess County Sheriff's Department.
The Owensboro Police Department and the Daviess County Sheriff's Department only "close" cases in certain circumstances, such as when an arrest is made and the defendant either goes to trial or pleads guilty. Cases can also be closed if officers determine there is not enough evidence to prove a crime took place, or in some instances, when the victim refuses to cooperate with an investigation.
But unsolved cases are never officially "closed." At OPD and the sheriff's department, unsolved, "cold" cases, no matter how old, become the responsibility of detectives who periodically review the files, look for new leads and check cases across the country for similarities to the local case.
A case that is unsolved is not forgotten, law enforcement officials say. Killings and disappearances that have never been resolved will stay on detectives' minds for years, or decades.
"You pretty much live with those cases for the rest of your life," Sheriff Keith Cain said last week. "We have a responsibility to find and bring to justice people who perpetrate these heinous acts."
If a case remains unsolved "it's not for lack of effort or concern," Cain said. Rather, investigators are hoping to find that piece of information that ties the loose ends of a case together. They also hope that people with possible leads about a "cold" case will finally tell detectives what they know.
SDLqWhat we are asking, on any and all cases (is) if people know something, they should come forward with that information, even if they don't think it's of any significance" said Sgt. Michael Walker, a supervisor in OPD's criminal investigations division. "It may be the potential break in the case for us. That may be the piece for information we were missing."
"You want to see a light at the end of the tunnel"
The night of Friday, Feb. 19, 2010, Donald Lewis Frakes was traveling down West Fourth Street toward downtown Owensboro in a wheelchair. Frakes' family believes he was leaving The Yellow Rose, a popular bar that he liked to visit.
At least one motorist saw Frakes; at 10:30 p.m., that driver called OPD out of concern about a man in a wheelchair traveling down the street. A patrol officer drove by the area but didn't see anyone in a wheelchair.
At 11:50 p.m., 911 dispatch received a report of a body in a ditch, not far from the Yellow Rose. Frakes, 56, was found dead at the scene after apparently being hit by a driver who continued on after the collision. The coroner's office ruled the cause of death was blunt force trauma.
Evidence left at the scene was scarce. A vehicle headlight was found and determined to have come from a GMC vehicle of some kind, but there was no way to trace the part to a specific vehicle.
"It was one of those rare cases where we weren't able to connect the evidence to a possible suspect," Walker said. In the days that followed, detectives contacted body shops hoping that a vehicle would have come in with damage matching the car part found at the scene. But a match was never found.
Five years later, detectives are hoping someone with knowledge about Frakes' death will finally provide the details needed to bring the case to a close.
"There's a good chance the person who struck Mr. Frakes didn't know what they hit" at the time of the incident, Walker said. "But I'd say by the next day (the driver) had a general idea.
"We've always maintained this was an accident," Walker said. "... All we've wanted to do is get a statement from the (driver). We've never believed drugs, alcohol or reckless driving" was involved in Frakes' death, he said.
At the place where Frakes' body was found, there is a small stone marker. Frakes' brothers originally had a wooden memorial there, but years of exposure to the elements caused it to decay. Danny Goodwin, one of Frakes' brothers, puts flowers on the memorial from time to time, but sees the memorial regularly on his drive home from work.
"Every day, I have to drive by where the incident occurred, so it stays fresh," Goodwin said. "It's not something that's easy to forget."
Frakes grew up in Utica and Pleasant Ridge. In other interviews, Goodwin described Frakes as a protective big brother, who at times was the main caregiver for his siblings. In 1973, at age 17, Frakes joined the Marines, and narrowly avoided being sent to Vietnam when his unit's mission was called off at the last minute.
Frakes had his own apartment in Owensboro, but often stayed at places like St. Benedict's Homeless Shelter. Frakes sometimes used his money helping his friends in shelters, buying them needed items and taking them to lunch. That Frakes had made a lot of friends in Owensboro was evident at his funeral, Goodwin said.
"Back when we had the funeral, the place was crowded" with people who had come to say goodbye, Goodwin said. "He was a very likable person. A lot of people liked him."
Walker said detectives looked for evidence at and around the scene, and reviewed surveillance camera footage from nearby businesses.
While the incident happened late at night, detectives hope there may be someone who saw something unusual in the area of the Yellow Rose that night who might shed light on the case.
"If there's anyone out there who has information, we would be happy to come out and talk to them anonymously," Walker said. There is also the hope that the person responsible, who has been living with the incident, will come forward, Walker said.
"A lot of times, because of a spiritual change in their life, we frequently get calls from someone who wants to share their knowledge of a cold case," Walker said. "Or they've been a perpetrator ... and want to get that off their chest. For us as investigators, that's a good thing. Any time we have an opportunity to close a case or bring someone to justice — or at least get the facts about what happened — that makes the community feel better about the job we're doing."
Frakes "has a family and friends that love him, and they have no answers," Walker said.
Goodwin and his wife, Cindy Goodwin, said friends often ask if the family has heard anything new about the investigation. People still remember, Cindy Goodwin said; at times, she has seen people at Frakes' memorial on West Fourth Street.
"It has not been forgotten," Cindy Goodwin said. "We still get questions all the time."
Danny Goodwin said time "does some healing, it does some numbing," but the family hopes that someone will come forward with information to solve the mystery of his brother's death.
"You want to see a light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "... It's something you want, not so much for me, but for Donnie. He deserves an end for it. He deserves justice. You just want to know what really happened."
"I know he didn't deserve to die like that"
Although 25 years have passed, Cain has a vivid memory of Sunday, Jan. 7, 1990, the day he and Kentucky State Police Detective Jarold Nickens were called to Pleasant Valley Road near Philpot to a report of a body in patch of woods.
What Cain and Nickens found was truly gruesome. The body, which had been found at 10:57 a.m. by a pair of rabbit hunters, was a man. Beyond that, investigators couldn't determine much.
The man had been beaten in the face so severely his features were obliterated, and he had been shot six times by a .22 caliber firearm in the head, chest and arm. The man had been sexually assaulted, and his hands and feet had been severed and were not with the rest of the body.
"Whoever killed this man took a considerable amount of time to do it," Cain said last week. "What happened didn't happen in the heat of the moment. Someone had (the victim) somewhere for an extended amount of time."
Although the victim is believed to have been killed somewhere other than where the body was found, investigators found a large amount of physical evidence with the body. But because the victim had been mutilated so brutally, detectives have been unable to determine his identity.
If detectives knew who the victim was, they could use the evidence left behind to lead them to a likely suspect, Cain said.
"This case is still very solvable," if the victim's identity were known, Cain said. "This is the only case in 41 years (in law enforcement) that I can remember where the victim, initially unidentified, remains unidentified."
The victim was determined to have been a white male with a "farmer's tan," indicating he had come from a warmer region, at least some place warmer than Daviess County in January, Cain said. The man was determined to have been between 5 feet, 2 inches to 5 feet, 6 inches tall, with dark brown hair that was graying at the temples, and brown eyes.
The man had a slight build of about 130 pounds, and had no identifying scars or tattoos, according to Cain's case notes. The man had been shot above and behind the left ear, which suggested an execution-style killing, Cain said.
Evidence taken from the scene and body included five .22 caliber bullets, a pair of prescription eyeglasses and semen from the sexual assault. Detectives were able to determine the man had been dead about 36 hours at the time the body was found, Cain said.
A witness who lived down the road from the wooded patch reported he had seen a white and green Ford pickup truck, likely an early 1970s model, driving in the area on the evening before the body was found, sheriff's department Detective Jerry Spurrier said.
Cain and Nickens exhausted their leads and then gathered about 30 detectives and investigators from several regional agencies, along with then-Daviess County Coroner Bob Howe, to have the group look at the investigation with fresh eyes. The ideas the group generated were also run down by Nickens and Cain, to no avail.
The body was exhumed, and an expert created a "forensic reconstruction" of the victim's face. In the years since, sheriff's department detectives have continued searching for evidence.
"This case has been reopened on three separate occasions," Cain said. "We have been to multiple states and interviewed people. The challenge is we've never been able to identify who this person is.
"I can't tell you the number of missing person cases we've run down" in the hope that one case would lead to the identify of the victim on Pleasant Valley Road, Cain said.
Spurrier said the last time detectives received a possible lead in the case was in May, when the department received information about a potential suspect in other killings. The lead was investigated through DNA evidence, but investigators determined there was no connection to the body found on Pleasant Valley Road.
Spurrier said he checks the missing person's database for any missing reports that might match the victim. Investigators have followed-up on possible leads across the country, Spurrier said.
"We've been to prisons, interviewed guys in prison," Spurrier said. Time is a factor in older cases, because potential witnesses move away or die.
"You're just hoping somebody, as they're getting up in years, is saying, ‘I need to talk to somebody'" about what they know about the case, Spurrier said.
Cain said although the "farmer's tan" indicated the victim appeared to be from somewhere other than Owensboro, investigators believe someone from the region is involved with the man's killing.
"That body was dumped in an location that you almost have to know the area to find it," Cain said. "We felt pretty confident there was a local connection.
"Whoever left that body there knew eventually he was going to be found," Cain said.
Because investigators believe the killing has a Daviess County connection, the feeling was that someone would eventually provide the tip that would help solve the case.
"That information was never forthcoming," Cain said. But investigators will still actively investigate leads, and would like to hear from anyone with possible information on the victim's identity, Cain said.
"By and large, what solves cases are people talking," Cain said. "... I don't know who this guy was, but I know he didn't deserve to die like that."
Tips about the hit-and-run death of Donald Frakes can be given to the Owensboro Police Department, at 687-8888. Information about mutilated man found on Pleasant Valley Road should be given to the Daviess County Sheriff's Department, by calling (270) 685-8444.
Anonymous tips can also be sent to Crime Stoppers, at (270) 687-8484. Crime Stoppers protects the identity of callers, and pays cash rewards for tips that lead to arrests. Tips can also be texed to Crime Stoppers at 274637 with "tip8484" at the beginning of the message. Crime Stoppers can also be contacted through OPD's Facebook page or through OPD's website,www.owensboro.org/police.