For Pauline McCoy’s family, a recent arrest in her 26-year-old slaying helped close a painful chapter. For the families of more than 90 other victims of unsolved homicides in Richmond County, that arrest provided hope and reopened old wounds.
Almost every year, more names are added to the list of unsolved deaths in Richmond County, but Sheriff Ronnie Strength said last week that no case is forgotten.
Strength still remembers some of the unsolved cases he worked as an investigator and said they still wear on his mind. All investigators know the feeling, he said.
“Any of our people who have an unsolved homicide, it absolutely bothers them,” he said. “Common sense tells everybody that every case is not solved, but the diligence put forth by our folks will not stop. These cases are never forgotten.”
In 1986, McCoy was found fatally stabbed in her Hyde Park home. At the time, investigators determined McCoy had died from strangulation, blunt force trauma and stab wounds.
Neighbor Jimmy Lee Riley was an early suspect, but it wasn’t until investigator Ashley Pletcher connected the dots nearly 26 years later that he was arrested.
“I was extremely excited,” Pletcher said.
After Riley was arrested June 4 at his Allen Avenue home, Pletcher contacted McCoy’s grandson to share the news.
“You could tell he was overjoyed. A stress was lifted off him,” she said. “It brought me close to tears. That’s my goal in trying to solve these cases. No matter how old it is, the victim’s family deserves closure.”
Pletcher is not the designated cold case investigator, but she said the cases have always fascinated her. The intrigue began at a young age, when a friend’s mother was killed and the case went cold. Pletcher said she tried to imagine what it must be like to know the person who killed your loved one was still out there.
The Crime Scene Unit said cold cases are often solved because a new investigator picks it up.
“New eyes are always good,” said investigator Tom Johnson, who worked with Pletcher on McCoy’s case. “Sometimes, someone new just has to see it.”
The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office has unsolved files dating back to the mid-1970s that can be pulled when needed.
Before that, many files were damaged during a flood.
Although solving a case 20 or more years after the crime is not common, Strength said it does happen.
In 2010, investigators solved a case they were unaware even existed, after a tipster sent a letter with information on a homicide more than 30 years old.
According to The Augusta Chronicle’s archives, the file on the fatal shooting of Bronzi Leon Peppers in his front yard on Feb. 3, 1975, was among those damaged in the flood.
When investigators received the information, the informant was not aware of the victim’s name but told officers he felt safe divulging the information after learning that one of the suspects, Tony Ray Ouzts, had died in a car wreck in Columbia County in the mid-1990s.
An old coroner’s report finally gave investigators the information they needed to put the pieces together, and three people later were arrested.
In other cases, such as McCoy’s, information presents itself after being re-examined years later.
In the only unsolved homicide of 2012, authorities continue to push for an answer even after the case has gone cold.
Last week the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office rented three electronic billboards asking the public for information in the shooting death of 16-year-old Kyle Royal.
The teen was shot Jan. 16 outside an illegally operating club on Mike Padgett Highway.
The billboards, which display a photo of Royal and a photo of the Hi-Point .45 carbine that resulted in his death, will be running for at least the next month.
For Larry Cook, the brutal killing of his son in November 2003 is still a raw, painful memory. He can barely get through a sentence without tearing up.
“I’m 75 years old,” he said. “All I want before I die is to find out who killed my son.”
In 2003, Bryan Cook was a happy 36-year-old who was fiercely independent even though he was mentally disabled. His kindness was likely what led to his death, his father said.
Cook would let anyone into his house, sleep on his floor and eat his food. He never refused anyone anything.
“I had several conversations with him about letting strangers in,” Larry Cook said. “He wouldn’t listen.”
It was a Tuesday morning when Bryan Cook’s social worker called to see whether his father had seen him lately. When Larry Cook said he had not, she went to his son’s one-bedroom Lake Olmstead apartment and found him strangled.
The door was ajar, a detail Larry Cook thinks meant his son let the killer into his apartment, most likely to give him something.
“He let the wrong person into his house,” the tearful father said.
Larry Cook was so upset about his son’s death, he ended up in the hospital.
“I missed my son’s funeral,” he said. “My wife had to do all of it. And I can’t get that back.”
Aside from never finding the killer, Cook said, the sheriff’s office has yet to return any of his son’s things.
“They have it all,” Cook said. “My son’s pictures; his clothing. I ain’t got nothing.”
Lt. Blaise Dresser said the sheriff’s office keeps all evidence from the scene until the case is closed.
“We’re going to hold on to everything we take until we deem it’s not relative. If we can’t solve the case we can’t deem it’s not relative,” he said.
Grady Abrams said he believes everyone has forgotten about the June 1973 killing of his girlfriend except for him.
Abrams discovered the body of Carol Greggs, a 24-year-old Paine College professor whom he had been dating for about a year, in her bed at her apartment on Ruby Drive. Police said Greggs died of strangulation, and Abrams, who was 34 years old at the time, was an initial suspect.
When Abrams approached the sheriff in 2000 demanding that the case be looked at again, he was told the file containing the case was one of the many destroyed in the flood.
“I’m never going to give up hope,” he said.
Many have told Abrams to forget about Greggs and move on, but he said that will never happen.
“I’m in the twilight of my life, and I want to see some effort made in this case,” he said. “I don’t care what the fallout is.”
For loved ones such as Abrams and Cook, cold cases can take a mental and physical toll.
“I’m an old man,” Cook said. “I just want to know who killed my son.”