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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Senior Producer Kelly Ann Martin