Florence Hildreth

September 6, 1987, A nude, beaten, sexually assaulted female body was discovered by a local farmhand. On a rural dirt road, in darkness, a terrible crime had occurred, leaving behind very little clues as to the identity of the victim, or her attacker. The dirt surrounding the victim showed signs of a struggle. With only one set of footprints at the scene, it became apparent that most likely the woman had been dragged from the vehicle and attacked.  Tire prints, some broken jewelry and a pair of jeans found by her battered unidentified body was all law enforment had to try and catch a killer.

There were no missing person reports describing the girl, so detectives had little to identify who Jane Doe might be. Or who had committed the heinous crime. When the pockets of the victim’s jeans were checked, however, they discovered a set of two keys with the letter “F” attached. This would be the breadcrumb that would lead investigators to the mailbox and apartment door belonging to Christine Hildreth.

Mrs. Hildreth had to then identify her own old daughter, Florence, as the victim. As a parent, it is incomprehensible for me to fathom the despair Christine must have experienced the moment she recognized her baby. To lose your child in such an egregious manner is every parent’s worst nightmare.

17-year-old Florence, a popular, honor roll student, dreamed of going to medical school. As a member of the cheerleader team, she was involved with her classmates and excelled in her extracurricular activities. Florence was well-loved by her family and friends. Her sunny disposition brought sunshine into the lives of everyone that she knew. Her senseless death shocked and saddened her community.

Once they verified the identity of their Jane Doe, detectives had very little clue as to who would have murdered Florence. The medical examiner determined her cause of death was from multiple stab wounds, and indeed had been sexually asaulted. Her attack was vicous; family, friends and the detectives working her case wanted her assailant to be found and for justice to be served. As quickly as possible.

The last time anyone had seen Florence was the night of her murder. She left her cousins house around 11pm to walk home, less than 3/4 of a mile away. This was a route she had walked countless times, without any trouble. Her friends and family were adamant that  Florence would have accepted a ride from a stranger; atleast, not willingly. Whoever had picked her up was suspect number one to authorities, as he or she was the last person to see Florence alive.

At the scene of the crime the footprints indicated the perputrator was wearing size twelve Brooks brand athletic shoes. Tire tracks revealed the letters D, S and V- possibly from ‘Limited Edition’ printed on the side thread of a spare tire. It wasnt much to go on but it was a good start.

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Once word of Florrences murder began to spread, detectives  received a tip that would lead to that very person. A witness who lived close to where Florence’s’ body was found said she noticed a red truck parked on the side of the road that night. She was driving home approximatley midnight, and remembered that the truck had ski racks on top. Because of the rural farming area, ski racks were unusual in the area. The description of that vehicle was familiar to detectives allready. It belonged to a family friend Ronald, who was staying at Florences uncles house. The very house she supposedly left to walk home that fateful night.

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Detectives immediately brought Rodney Berryman in for questioning. He had a criminal past in several states and owned a vehicle matching the witness description. During questioning, Rodney denied that he was ever in the area of the attack, having Florence in his vehicle at any time or loaning his vehicle to anyone else. Upon inspection detectives noticed his truck did NOT have a spare tire matching those found at the scene, nor was there any blood inside of the vehicle. But then, far beneath the seat, easily overlooked, forensic experts located a few small peices of gold links, matching some of the jewlrey at the crime scene. The gold was sent to a forensic expert who was able to compare the peices found at the scene of FLorenses murder and the gold links found in the truck and that they matched the links exactly. The spare tire was found in the backyard of Florences own family member. Testing determined the tire matched the prints found at the crime scene.

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Throughout Rodneys interview he continued denying involvment. He had scratches on his face, possiby defense scratches Florence caused while fighting him off. Rodney was wearing size 12 brooks athletic shoea, and on those shoes were visible droplets of blood. That blood would later match Florence’s. A fingerprint found on the dashboars inside of his vehicle would later be identified as Florences as well.

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Less than 24 hours after Florence was murdered, Rodney Berryman was arrested for her murder. Due to the amount of evidence the prosecuter presented, the jury would find Rodney guilty of first degree intentional felony murder, rape, and use of a deadly weapon.  He was sentence to the Death Penalty. He later appealed, which the courts, rightfully so, denied his motion.

Justice Served.

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Sources:
Martin, K. A., Kelly, B., & Stuart, C. M. (Producers), & Ropp, H., & Walters, L. A. (Writers). (n.d.). Weakest Link [Television series episode]. In Forensic Files. Hulu. Retrieved May 20, 2018, from https://www.hulu.com/watch/988793

Senior Producer Kelly Ann Martin

https://law.justia.com/cases/california/supreme-court/4th/6/1048.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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True Crime: Shauna Howe

A shy brunette with a page-boy haircut, 11-year-old Shauna Howe left her home dressed as a gymnast on Oct. 27, 1992, to head to school, and later, a Girl Scout Halloween party, which she left around 8 p.m. She never made it home from the party. Three hours after a witness called Oil City police to report he’d just seen a thin, disheveled white man force a young girl into a red car on the street, Shaunas’ mother reported her missing.

After three days, widespread searches led to the discovery of Shaunas’ body. She was sexually assaulted, her battered and broken body thrown off of a railroad track six miles away. It was there, in the dry creek bed, that Howe would lose her life after sustaining severe injuries to her upper body. An autopsy showed she died of head and chest injuries. The three men responsible for her death would not be caught or sentenced until 2005, 13 years after the incident.

Just two blocks away from her home, Howe was snatched off the street by Eldred “Ted” Walker. Mr. Walker told police that he, Timothy and James O’Brien had talked of abducting a child as a Halloween prank to make Oil City police look foolish. That night, as Shauna attended her Girl Scout Halloween party, the Oil City brothers were lurking and plotting the sinister act that would cut her young life short.

In court, Mr. Walker said he snatched Shauna from the street as she walked home from the party. He handed her over to Timothy O’Brien, who was riding in a car with James O’Brien. He said the brothers drove away with her and he later learned that the O’Briens had taken Shauna to his house. When he arrived to his house he heard a female voice crying, “Get off me, let me up, let me go” while the O’Briens were upstairs in a bedroom of the home. Walker testified that they subjected her to extreme acts of cruelty and sexual violence before throwing her from the bridge alive, leaving Shauna to die alone in the shallow creek below.

Walkers gave testimony against the O’Briens under an agreement that allowed him to plead guilty to third-degree murder and kidnapping. (He would later try to change the plea and was denied by the court.) He faces 20 to 40 years in prison.

At the time of their arrest in July 2004, the brothers James O’Brien, 33, and Timothy O’Brien, 39, were serving time in state prisons for unrelated attacks. Prosecutors presented DNA test results from a FBI laboratory that showed that semen found on Shauna’s body and clothing came from James O’Brien. One day shy of 13 years after Shauna Howe was snatched, after a two-week trial and a deliberation of 16 hours, the jury of six men and six women reached its verdict .

The jury found the O’Briens guilty of kidnapping, voluntary deviant sexual intercourse, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and second and third-degree murder. Shockingly the jury  found them NOT guilty of first-degree murder and rape… The convictions they DID receive, however, means the brothers will serve life in prison without parole. After the verdict was read, due to high publicity, the Jury was whisked away from the court-house. Prosecutors and defense attorneys did not comment and remained under a gag order imposed by Judge Oliver Lobaugh. The order didn’t prevent the prosecutor, Venango County District Attorney Marie Veon, and Erie County District Attorney Brad Foulk, who assisted her, from smiling and accepting handshakes and well-wishes from the Howe family and investigators.

As the verdicts were read, Shauna’s mother, Lucy Mae Brown, and other relatives embraced, held hands and bowed their heads. Shauna’s uncle, Keith Sibble, pumped his right fist and mouthed “Yes! This is justice.” Mrs. Brown said “I still have a hole in my heart but I needed it to be solved. They took a little girl’s life. They spent 12 years living their lives. My daughter would have been 24, but what does she have? Nothing.” Mr. Sibble praised investigators and prosecutors for their relentless pursuit of the case. “[Today] would be 13 years … we’re never going to get Shauna back, but this was the last step we had to get through. These people will never hurt anyone again.”

Shauna’s slaying terrified residents of Venango County and much of Western Pennsylvania. As word spread of the Jury outcome , residents began driving past the courthouse sounding their horns and shouting derisive remarks about the defendants.  The sentences are to run consecutively with sentences the brothers were already serving for other, unrelated crimes. Both were determined to be sexual violent predators under Megan’s Law. “It was for their cruelty – for the life they took more than 13 years ago and the remorse they haven’t shown in the years since ” said Judge Oliver J. Lobaugh as he sentenced the two brothers to spend the rest of their lives in prison,”The world was a better place because of Shauna (Howe) and the world will be a much better place without you walking free ever again,”

 In attendance at the brothers sentencing were four of the Indiana County jurors. Although they declined to comment, one juror said he and the others returned because they also sought closure. Shauna’s mother, Lucy Brown said “That the brothers will be behind bars for the rest of their lives is wonderful. They’re gone and they’re not coming back.”

Rest in peace Shauna.

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Check Out Cold Case Files: Little Girl Lost on Hulu.

Citations: (2017, February 27). Retrieved May 13, 2018, from https://www.hulu.com/watch/1188027
Shauna Howe.
(2018, May 06). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shauna_Howe