Archive for Sunday, May 2, 2004

Investigators building report on rural killing

Six-month-old case still a mystery

May 2, 2004


Carmin Ross was on the way from Kansas City International Airport to her home in Manhattan one day last year when she decided to go driving near Lawrence to look for houses.

Since divorcing her husband, a Kansas State University English professor, Ross had been looking for a new home, preferably one in the country. According to a friend, Ross wanted to get out of Manhattan but find a place close enough to make it convenient to share joint custody of the couple's preschool-aged daughter.

Lawrence seemed to be a good fit for Ross, a 40-year-old peace activist and student of an alternative-medicine healing technique called "Consegrity."

"She'd always loved Lawrence, and she'd always been interested in living in a more progressive kind of community," friend Angela Hayes said.

During her drive, Ross spotted a stately, 2 1/2-story stucco home on East 1150 Road, north of Lawrence. She fell in love with the home and began renting it in August. Three months later, on Nov. 14, police found Ross' body there, slain in what they have described only as "a crime of violence."

Now nearly six months later, the case remains a mystery.

"My main concern is watching her family have to go through the lack of resolution and what it would be like if it's never resolved," said Hayes, who once worked with Ross presenting seminars at KSU about balancing work and family. "I'm at least more at peace with it than I was initially. I don't know if I'm getting numb or what."

Making progress

Sheriff Rick Trapp, whose office still has two detectives assigned to the case, said last week he hoped to send an investigative report to the District Attorney's Office for consideration of charges "in the not-too-distant future."

He's not making predictions about when that will be or whether the case will be solved.

"We just haven't gotten everything together we need for the report," he said. "We're doing everything we can to get this successfully resolved. I think we're making progress, and that's all I'm going to say about it right now."

Crime-scene investigators spent a week at Ross' home, 1860 E. 1150 Road. To date, the department has collected about 275 pieces of evidence. The report itself occupies about 20 large binders and expanding folders, he said.

Some lab results have returned from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation lab and the Kansas City, Mo., Regional Crime lab, but Trapp wouldn't say what they were. In general, the labs are studying blood samples, hairs, fibers and other "trace evidence" found at the scene.

The department also sent information about the case to FBI profilers in Quantico, Va. As of last week, it hadn't received a profile.

In addition to the two detectives assigned to the case full time, two more work on it part-time, Trapp said. The Ross investigation remained the agency's top priority, he said.

"It's been tedious. It's been exhaustive. It's been thorough, and it's been professional in all respects," he said.

Trapp said the number of leads coming into the department had dwindled. Much of the work being done now involves going back and reviewing what's already been gathered, looking for possible new questions to be asked or connections to be made.

Silent strategy

In the days after the slaying, deputies stopped traffic in the area asking whether anyone had seen anything unusual. They combed nearby ditches and fields looking for dropped clues, and they searched the Manhattan home of the victim's ex-husband, Thomas E. Murray. A spokesman later said he was not a suspect.

Investigators' questions of a baby sitter, who was watching Ross' daughter shortly before her death, indicate she may have been stabbed. Trapp has said the death didn't appear to be the work of a serial killer, but he has steadfastly refused to say whether there were any suspects or even how Ross died.

Trapp and other officials' silence about the details of the case is part of a deliberate strategy they say could help get the case solved.

"I think we have been successful in maintaining the integrity of critical and key information," Trapp said.

Police say several recent cases show that keeping a tight lid on crime-scene information can help solve cases. For example, while investigating the 2002 double murder of Pete Wallace and Wyona Chandlee on Learnard Avenue, Lawrence police didn't say publicly that they'd determined a burglar committed the killings.

When detectives interviewed suspect Damien Lewis, he eventually admitted burglarizing the home, something officials said he probably wouldn't have done had he known the department had made the connection.

"In a whodunit, it's very important" to keep crime-scene information private, said Lt. Dan Affalter, who supervises Lawrence Police detectives. "In some cases, the suspect pops out at you early on in the investigation. In some cases, they don't, and those are the ones where it's probably the most important to keep your cards close to your vest."

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