Geoffrey Chaplin was hit and killed by a vehicle in the eastbound lane of Broadway on Oct. 18. The vehicle, according to witness reports, disappeared around the corner after dragging Chaplin’s body several feet. Police have yet to announce any progress in the case.
Chaplin, 41, joins a list of 20 other unsolved homicides and missing persons cases whose trails have since gone cold, according to information from the Muskogee Police Department. The list includes homicides as recent as that of Brett Doty, who was found shot to death in his vehicle in November 2017 and the presumed death of Kristyn Richerson, who disappeared in May 2018.
MPD Investigator Michael Crawford believes the information is out there.
“Someone out there knows what happened to Kristyn Richerson — somebody out there knows who killed Timmy Walker,” Crawford said. “We’re not happy to hand out a list of unsolved homicides; we want those solved.”
Sheri Wright said she thinks daily about her friend Richerson who has been missing since May 2018.
“There is not one day that has passed where we don’t ask why this happened, where we don’t ask why we don’t have some answers, why we don’t have Kristyn to bring home,” Wright said. “It’s been a mental battle, it really is, with what very little we know and the fact that we haven’t been able to bring her home.”
Richerson’s sister, Robin Brown, said every day is difficult for her, too.
“I cry every day because I wasn’t close to my sister, but I know she met with foul play,” Brown said. “It would bring us closure knowing at least what happened to her, who killed her, why they killed her, what they did with her.”
A cold trail haunts law enforcement, too, said Muskogee County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Michael Mahan. During his time with the Muskogee Police Department, Mahan was the responding officer to a call about Vicky Cabrera, who was found dead by Mahan inside her vehicle at 2424 N. Main St., in 1998.
“You always remember those,” Mahan said. “Even though I wasn’t involved in furthering that, I was the one that found her.”
Mahan said it left “a hole” inside of a law enforcement officer to leave a case unfinished.
“There’s always going to be an incomplete part of you, because you want justice for that person and justice for that family,” Mahan said. “Ultimately, that’s in every officer.”
Some of the cases on the list go as far back as 1995, such as the slaying of Delvin Williams, who was found shot on the 2300 block of Military Boulevard. No matter how old the crimes may be, MPD investigators routinely review past cases and check out potential leads as relationships change and technology improves, hoping to bring closure to families who previously had none, Crawford said.
“We don’t ever say well let’s just not investigate, because we owe it to our victims and our victims’ families to continue with whatever we can to eventually and ultimately solve that case,” said Investigator James Poffel.
A disappearing trail
MPD Chief Johnny Teehee, who has worked in some capacity at the MPD since the late 1980s, remembers working on the Delvin Williams case — and has a pretty good idea who killed Williams, he said.
“We know that in a particular instance that this guy had gotten into a fight with his girlfriend and had roughed her up a little bit,” Teehee said. “And now all of a sudden he’s got a shotgun blast to the back of the head on Military, so based on who her family is and their propensity for violence, there’s a pretty good indication of who the trigger guy is, or at least it’s a matter of which one of a couple guys and whether you have the information to tie them to it.”
The problem, therefore, was not who committed the crime so much as proving they were the ones who pulled the trigger, Teehee said, which is often the case with cold investigations.
“A lot of times the case is built, it’s just having the ability to confirm and finalize it,” Teehee said. “We have a real good idea who did a lot of these. It’s just about getting the information — and that’s another thing that helps; if we have a general idea of where to go with it, that helps when that new information may come up down the road.”
Trails can go cold for a number of reasons, whether that be a lack of cooperation from witnesses or the lack of a body. Sometimes the evidence is simply not immediately available for officers to discover, whether that be testimony or physical proof of the crime.
Another challenge in staying abreast of cold cases can simply be staff turnover — the investigator handling the case of Vicky Cabrera, who was found dead in her vehicle outside of her workplace in 1998, is not the same person who initially launched that inquiry, Teehee said.
“We ask our frontline supervisors to be really meticulous about information that goes in initial reports,” Teehee said. “When you have one since 1995, chances are that investigator who worked that case isn’t there, so every report that’s done needs to have all the information — there’s not any information that’s not potentially important down the road.”
It can be a challenge to work with information that was initially recorded 20 years ago, Crawford said.
“When you get information that old, there are some challenges presented — making sure that all that information from that original case is fresh in your mind, so that when this person tells you this new information you can corroborate it or dispel it,” Crawford said. “So that’s kind of one of the problematic areas is when information comes out down the road — just making sure we know that case well enough that even if there’s a changeover in law enforcement or that original investigator isn’t there anymore, we can still get the best possible outcome for that case.”
Uncovering old crimes
While many factors can contribute to a case going cold, just as many can prompt its reopening, Teehee said.
“There’s a lot of cases that will come up with DNA with the advancements we’ve made technology wise, or maybe you have somebody that’s involved in something or knows firsthand knowledge of that, and over time they either have a separation or become disgruntled with that person, or somebody dies, and that person involved feels safer about talking,” Teehee said. “There’s all kinds of reasons we get information on old cases.”
Teehee cited the case of Carol Stallings Grannon, who was killed and sealed in concrete by her husband Jeffrey Grannon in 1999. In that case, Jeffrey Grannons’ son, Josh Grannon, was arrested in February 2011 on a charge of endeavoring to manufacture methamphetamine. After his arrest, Josh disclosed to Muskogee County sheriff’s deputies the details of Carol Grannon’s death and subsequent interment in concrete in a manhole behind her mother-in-law’s home.
“Her body was missing for a long time, and there was an argument between somebody and somebody went to jail and somebody went ‘well just so you know I can give you this information,’” Teehee said. “This one happened to be information from an individual.”
Even information delivered years after the fact can be useful in either revealing the perpetrator of the crime or sealing the case against an existing suspect, Crawford said.
“A lot of this is: can we prove this to a jury in court?” Crawford said. “Can we prove everything beyond a shadow of a doubt so that this jury knows — just because we know who it is, we have to be able to prove it.”
Bringing closure to families
If Teehee could, he said, he’d have employees dedicated wholly to reviewing and reviving cold cases.
“We would like to have the manpower to have people come in and assign them to go back and check these things, but we’re just so shorthanded, unless something new comes up, we don’t have the ability to spend the manpower to do that,” he said. “You could spend a whole week just getting up to speed on the case.”
When cold cases are reopened, investigators pursue what leads they can, whether that’s new information from a witness or new revelations built off DNA samples. The ultimate goal is always to bring closure to families who may not even have a body to mourn, Teehee said.
“A lot of times when you have a missing, it would put a lot of things to rest family wise just if we were able to recover the body,” Teehee said. “I guess that’s the biggest thing: having the ability for that family to put something to rest.”
It can bring a sense of closure to the officers, too, Teehee said.
“It’s not really a sense of pride so much as it is a sense of doing your job,” he said. “Every day these guys are out working cases and regardless of whether or not it’s a burglary or a rape case or a child abuse case or a homicide, they want to get to that finish line and say they’ve accomplished justice for that family.”
Crawford said he hoped public discussion of these cold cases would bring someone forward with new information on them.
“We’re always happy to hear whatever people have to offer — even if they think it’s not important, we want them to bring that in anyway,” Crawford said. “There may be something there that helps us with the case. If people know something, we want them to call us.”