‘Key to finding the killer,’ SLC cops looking for lost evidence from 40-year-old cold case

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‘Key to finding the killer,’ SLC cops looking for lost evidence from 40-year-old cold case (Photo: KUTV)
‘Key to finding the killer,’ SLC cops looking for lost evidence from 40-year-old cold case (Photo: KUTV)

SALT LAKE CITY —

(KUTV) – Salt Lake City cold case detectives know it’s a long shot, but they are hoping someone who may hold the key to solving several murders from more than 35 years ago.

While going through their colleagues’ work from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, detectives found that the physical evidence in approximately 20 cold-case murders had vanished.

“Whether or not we can actually process evidence from these items, we don’t know, but first we have to find them,” Detective Greg Wilking told 2News. “This could be the key to finding a killer.”

In 1983, the Utah State Crime Lab opened and began forensic testing of evidence. Before that time, homicide evidence that needed to be forensically tested was taken to the University of Utah’s ‘Center for Human Toxicology.’

There, Dr. Kevin McCloskey processed the evidence with tests that were available at the time.

“Where we were in 1983 with DNA evidence and where we are now with DNA evidence is night and day,” Wilking said.

The infancy of DNA testing in criminal forensics didn’t begin until the mid-1980’s, meaning much of the evidence from unsolved homicide cases have never been tested for DNA.

Salt Lake City Police hope someone may know what happened decades ago when the evidence from the pre-1983 unsolved murders was either moved or possibly destroyed.

Salt Lake City insists their evidence division does not have the items that were forensically tested from Dr. McCloskey’s lab.

2News contacted the University of Utah’s ‘Center For Human Toxicology,’ which said it doesn’t have the evidence either. A former lab tech at the center said he was familiar with the processing and gave the following statement to 2News.

“CHT did evidence processing for various police departments in the late 70s and into the 80s. There was no DNA testing in those days only A B O typing. We tested blood stains, sexual assault evidence, and other crime scene materials. The evidence was stored in designated freezers and refrigerators in the lab while testing and often while trials were pending.

However, the policy was ultimately to return all evidence to the submitting agency. No evidence, freezers, or refrigerators ever ‘disappeared’.”

2News also checked with the Utah State Crime Lab which responded that they have no evidence pre-dating 1983.

Wilking and the other Salt Lake City detectives are confident someone who is still alive knows where the evidence went.

Among the missing evidence is a bloody knife that used to slaughter Anthony Adams in his apartment near Temple Square in 1978.

Adams was a young gay black man who was a vocal political activist in the late 70’s. His murder shocked his communities.

“Being black at that time was a novelty, especially in Salt Lake City, so most people knew him,” Utah gay historian Ben Williams said.

Williams investigated the circumstances around Adams death for a Q Salt Lake article in 2009.

“I know people who said [Adams’ murder] kept them in closet, they were coming out but they went back in the closet,” Williams told 2News.

Williams said there were several other murders of gay men around the same time. Gay rights activist Harvey Milk was killed three weeks after Adams’ death.

“Community activism came to a halt at that point,” Williams said.

Police leads never turned up a solid suspect in the Adams case.

His death was especially brutal. After he was stabbed several times in his apartment, his throat was slit.

Cops didn’t notice anything missing from Adams’ apartment and don’t think robbery was a motive.

Salt Lake Tribune articles from the time indicated Adams’ friends called for an FBI investigation of his death citing his known political activism for the Socialist Workers Party.

The detectives at the time recovered the murder weapon in a pile of clothes in Adams’ bedroom. The bloody knife was tested in Dr. McCloskey’s lab but only for blood type and not for DNA.

Detectives hope to recover the missing knife and send it for DNA analysis.

“It would likely have had DNA on it belonging to the suspect,” Wilking said.

Salt Lake City detectives solved a cold case last year when a piece of evidence was tested for DNA. Sharon Schollmeyer was strangled to death in 1977. Schollmeyer lived, coincidentally, in the same apartment building at 125 E 1st Avenue where Anthony Adams was murdered a year later.

A piece of clothing from the Schollmeyer case is was ended up leading detectives to her alleged killer, Patrick McCabe.

Unlike the knife from the Adams case, a halter top recovered from the Schollmeyer crime scene was stored in an evidence box with Salt Lake City Police. In 2016, Salt Lake City Police submitted a DNA profile from the clothing to the FBI database and it came back as a match to McCabe.

Police solved the murder 39 years and one day after Schollmeyer’s death. McCabe admitted to the murder and pled guilty in 2017. He was sentenced to five-years-to-life in the Utah State Prison.

Police hope for a similar outcome in the Adams case and the other unsolved murders in which the evidence is missing.

Wilking said if they can prove the evidence was not tampered with during the time it was missing, they may still be able to bring criminal charges against potential suspects who are identified by DNA.

If you have information about the missing evidence or about a Salt Lake City cold case, call dispatch at 801-799-3000 and ask to speak with the homicide division. You can leave a tip and remain anonymous.

To contact 2News reporter Jeremy Harris, e-mail jeremyharris@kutv.com or call 801-839-1280.

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