ATHENS, Ga. -- She’s mourned the loss of her best friend for two decades, but Sandi Turner is having a harder time this year remembering how University of Georgia student Jennifer Lynn Stone died.
“A round number is somehow more painful, and it’s making me more sensitive to it,” Turner said. “It hurts every year, but there’s something different about this anniversary of Jenny’s death.”
Stone was raped and murdered April 23, 1992, in the small home she rented on North Hull Street, just on the fringe of downtown Athens.
She was a gifted photographer who planned on a career in creative advertising.
Stone made an impact on most everyone she met, according to Turner, who got to know her during UGA sorority rush, became sisters in Kappa Delta and even traveled through Europe together.
“I still run into people in the strangest places who had classes with Jenny and have vivid memories of her because of the impression she made,” Turner said. “How many people can you say that about?
Investigators have spent thousands of hours and traveled across the country looking for the person who killed the 22-year-old student but have never made an arrest.
Ten years into retirement, the former lead investigator on Stone’s case hasn’t forgotten or given up hope.
“I sure as heck want this thing solved before I die,” retired Athens-Clarke police Lt. W.J. Smith said.
“I still offer $1,000 of my own money to anyone who comes up with information that leads to the arrest and prosecution of the murderer of Jenny Stone,” he said, adding he’d even come out of retirement if investigators identify a viable suspect.
Although Smith and a team of detectives and Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents questioned dozens of potential suspects and tracked down hundreds of leads, no one has ever been charged.
“The people on this case were some of the finest, most dedicated people I have ever worked with,” Smith said. “I pray that one of these days this dedication and hard work will pay off.”
At the time, police said the home on North Hull Street became the most thoroughly examined and guarded crime scene in the department’s history. Detectives and forensic technicians painstakingly cataloged every shred of potential evidence over several days.
“We worked that case into the ground,” Smith recalled.
“I don’t know how long it was before I actually got to go home when it first happened,” he said.
“We had a policy (where) you work until there is an arrest, a natural break such as no more leads, or until you get relieved,” Smith said. “There were many days and nights that we all came in and had no idea when we might get to go home again.”
Police have theories on how Stone was killed, and this one is the best they’ve come up with:
On the day of the crime, Stone worked into the early morning hours on a project for a UGA advertising class, then decided to take a break.
She left her home sometime after 1 a.m. for some fresh air, and later returned to surprise a burglar who had slipped in through an unlocked door.
They struggled in the kitchen, and the burglar forced Stone into the bedroom where he raped and strangled her to death.
The killer traded one of Stone’s cameras there for a rock of crack cocaine at a pool hall nearby, then crossed West Broad Street to trade the other camera for more crack at the Parkview Homes housing complex.
Witnesses described the person with the cameras as a light-skinned black man with a slight mustache — a person no one had ever seen before.
That description would be consistent with the evidence from DNA the killer left behind.
Scientists at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Crime Lab determined that hair on Stone’s bed bore traits of a mix-raced person, and DNA from the hair matched the killer’s semen.
Police recovered both cameras, one during a drug raid off Jefferson Road. The film in the camera showed Stone’s nephews and nieces posing for a peanut butter advertisement she was working on, according to Smith.
Athens-Clarke Assistant Police Chief Alan Brown was a sergeant when he partnered with Smith on the Stone investigation.
He concurs with Smith that she may have been murdered by a transient, someone who left town from the bus station that’s adjacent to the home where Stone lived.
However, Brown said he never locked onto a particular theory and is open to the possibility that Stone knew her killer.
Police believe that the DNA evidence will be the key to solving Stone’s murder.
Dozens of people gave DNA samples that allowed investigators to rule them out as suspects. Others didn’t give samples, but were discounted because they were white, according to Smith.
Some people even claimed the killer might be the son of a local judge, but investigators found he couldn’t have committed the crime.
Convicted felons in all states must give DNA samples upon entering prison, a requirement that didn’t begin in Georgia until 2000, eight years after Stone was killed.
While authorities hope a prisoner’s DNA will one day match that of Stone’s killer, there’s a new push that will rely on both science and old-fashioned police work.
Western Judicial Circuit District Attorney Ken Mauldin last year formed a Cold Case Unit that’s looking into all unsolved murders in Clarke and Oconee counties.
Heading the unit is Assistant District Attorney Tony Volkodav, a former Atlanta police homicide investigator.
“We’re working (Stone’s case) from both ends, by wanting to re-interview witnesses and taking a second look at the evidence,” Volkodav said.
Cold Case Unit members are making a list of all available evidence to see if any can be tested with technology that didn’t exist when Stone was killed.
“I don’t want to give false hope, or discourage anyone either, but we are working hard on all these cases,” Volkodav said.
Raymond Stone always had placed his trust with investigators tasked with finding his daughter’s killer.
“I absolutely hold out hope that one day it will be solved,” he told the Athens Banner-Herald in an interview in 2001, a year before he died.
“A lot of cases are being solved by DNA,” he said.
Jennifer Stone’s father died the same year Smith retired as a police officer, and her mother passed away last August.
But she’s survived by five sisters and other relatives, and Smith hopes the killer is brought to justice for their sake.
“The Stone family was so respectful, understanding and helpful in any way they could be,” Smith said. “The department owes them nothing less than pursuing every reasonable lead that comes up.”
Stone was an advertising major who minored in journalism, and had won an internship with a prestigious Atlanta advertising firm.
Her name lives on with the Jennifer Lynn Stone Memorial Scholarship in Creative Advertising and the Jennifer Lynn Stone Award for Creativity in Advertising, both presented annually at UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.
“It was very important to everyone that we do something to keep her memory and legacy alive,” Turner said, “so the idea was for two awards that would recognize two things that were extremely important to Jenny and who she was — photography was one of her great passions, and the other was the creative side to advertising.
“The awards are something to give talented students a leg up, to inspire them to keep pushing boundaries like Jenny did,” Turner said.