JULY 21, 2010 6:34 a.m. (1)
Crystal Bradshaw was getting her life back together.
The 28-year-old mother had been separated from her husband for several months and had recently purchased a home on Northbrook Street off Highway 9 in Boiling Springs.
She was working as a waitress at the Peach Blossom restaurant and taking classes at Spartanburg Community College.
Then on June 3, 2007, someone killed her and set the house on fire to try to cover up the crime.
Bradshaw’s murder is one of 40 unsolved homicide cases for the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office.
“Potentially every one of these cases could be cleared,” said William Gary, the investigator assigned to the department’s cold cases. “The evidence in some is better than in others.”
In some of the cases, detectives think they know who did it, but don’t have enough evidence to make an arrest and successfully prosecute the case in court, Gary said. In one case, the suspect died five years later, but the case is still open.
The number of unsolved homicides in the United States is increasing. In 1963, the homicide clearance rate nationwide was 91 percent. By 2008, it had fallen to 63 percent of the cases nationwide.
Criminal justice officials say one reason fewer cases nationwide are being solved is because of an increase in drug-related and gang-related murders. They say in the 1960s and 1970s about 70 percent of victims and murderers knew each other. That has fallen to less than 45 percent today.
The more time that passes after the murder, the less likely the case will be solved.
The problem, law enforcement officials said, is with time, witnesses die, move away and cease to cooperate, and memories fade.
“After the first day or two, it gets more difficult,” Gary said.
DNA has enabled police to solve cases that are decades old. But the problem in many cases is evidence that could be used wasn’t collected, he said.
The oldest case Gary is working on dates back to 1970.
Michael Hinson was an 11th grade baseball player at Dorman High. On Sept. 12, Hinson was riding around with some others in a car. They got into a fight with people in another car. The groups were chasing each other and Hinson got out of his car at the intersection of Asheville Highway and California Avenue to talk to the other group. He was shot. His friends put him back into their car and took him to the hospital.
Gary said he got some information about somebody who was out that night and drove the same type of car, a green late 1960s model Plymouth Fury. But the man has died.
“I don’t feel like giving up on any of the cases. It might take luck to solve some, but luck can be generated by hard work,” Gary said. “But some cases just stick with you more.”
The Bradshaw case is one.
He wasn’t the original investigator, but he’s been working on it since Day 2.
“I guess it’s knowing what she was trying to do to better her life for herself and her child. She had overcome the adversities she had dealt with her whole life,” Gary said.
Gary said Bradshaw had been into drugs, but had been clean for a while.
Bradshaw’s body was found in her burned home on the morning of June 3, 2007. Gary said she died of blunt force trauma, likely several hours before the fire was discovered.
There was no evidence of forced entry and those who knew her said she would not have opened the door for strangers, leading police to believe she knew her killer.
Nothing was missing and there was no evidence of a sexual assault, he said.
The fire was contained in the roof, which fell in. The fire probably destroyed some evidence, but not all.
Bradshaw’s estranged husband and her boyfriend have been cleared. At least a dozen people have been interviewed, but there’s one man with whom Gary really wants to talk.
After the fire was called in, neighbors gathered outside. They recall seeing a man acting strangely. The man disappeared after deputies, who were the first emergency responders, arrived. Witnesses said the man tried to stop anybody from going into the house.
“It’s possible this person just saw the fire and it captured his attention. He may have wanted to leave because he had warrants on him. We don’t know,” Gary said. But some of the comments he made indicated he may have known Bradshaw was inside, the investigator said.
Gary said none of Bradshaw’s customers at work are the focus of the investigation. He also has cleared some people who bragged about the case.
Only one person in Bradshaw’s life has a fire background and that person is not being 100 percent cooperative with investigators, Gary said.
“I can’t say he did it. I can’t say he didn’t do it by any means,” the investigator said.
In all of the unsolved homicide cases, Gary has re-interviewed witnesses. He’s gone to prisons to talk to people who may have information. He searches through the notes of other investigators who have worked the cases and he tries to think of other ways to get evidence tested.
Gary said he keeps up with the advances in crime scene technology. Like all of the cold cases that fill the file cabinets on one and a half walls in his office, Gary said the killer may be somewhere in a two-inch binder full of notes.
“A piece of information may not seem important to people, but it could be the piece that glues everything together for us,” he said.
In some cases, people may be ready to tell what they know to get it off their chests, he said. In other cases, they may no longer be afraid the killer will come after them.
“It’s hard for people to tell on friends and loved ones. But what if the victim was their friend or loved one? How would they feel?” Gary said. “The person may be a drug addict or a drug dealer, but they didn’t deserve for someone to kill them. I know there are people out there who know about these cases.”
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