The Murders Without A 'Why'

Posted: April 07, 1988

Keith Stimson was a drummer.

The 17-year-old Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School student played in the drum line of the school's Marching Colonials band and was a member of the Bayonne (N.J.) Bridgemen Drum and Bugle Corps.

Last year, he spent the final evening of his life cutting a piece of wood to adjust the strap of a drum harness. Two friends from the neighborhood, Edward H. Miller, 23, and Robert Trofa, 17, worked with him at Trofa's garage.

Later in the evening April 7, after he had gone home, Keith accidentally broke the wood and returned to Trofa's alone to cut a new piece. He left Trofa's house about 8:30 p.m.

It was the last time he was seen alive.

Keith's mother, Mary Stimson, found his body about 8:30 a.m. the next day. He had been killed by a single gunshot wound to the back of his head, and was found lying near the woods behind his home in the 2900 block of Jolly Road in Plymouth.

"The 'why?' haunts," Mary Stimson said. "Keith wasn't a bad kid. He was a good kid. There is just no reason" for the murder.

It was one year ago today that the killer snuffed out the teenager's life.

Police have yet to make an arrest.

The Stimson family and Plymouth Township police investigators express frustration that the murder has not been solved, but they are not alone.

Eight eastern Montgomery County police departments are investigating 16 unsolved murders. They are being assisted by Montgomery County detectives, and, in some instances, the FBI.

Detectives say that many of the murders remain unsolved because they do not have enough physical evidence or reliable witnesses to identify suspects. In other instances, such as the murder of Keith Stimson, investigators say they do have suspects, but lack the evidence to make arrests.

Several detectives say they have lost sleep trying to put the pieces of their crime puzzles together. Others emphasized that all unsolved murders are considered "active" cases.

"Homicide is the ultimate crime," said Detective Rick Tidwell of the Upper Moreland Police Department. "It is the most heinous crime in our society."

For the families of victims, the unanswered questions are a source of constant pain. Some family members have only sketchy details of the murders, and say they often relive the last violent moments of the victims' lives.

They are torn by the thought that they didn't have a chance to tell their loved ones goodbye, and their grief may be compounded by publicity surrounding the cases.

Because the cases are unsolved, family members are known to live in fear that the killers could still be stalking their neighborhoods.

The most difficult thing for any person "is losing a child for whatever reason," Mary Stimson said.

"With murdered kids, you have the police and the investigation. . . . (It seems) every time you come home, it's back on the front page."

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Behind each murder victim is a grieving family and at least two detectives with files full of notes and photographs.

According to Detective Tidwell, if a murder is not solved within the first 48 hours, the investigation is likely to prove slow and difficult.

"A key point of your homicide investigation is your evidence," he said.

Homicide investigators say the first thing they do when arriving at a crime scene is attempt to protect physical evidence, such as fingerprints, sneaker prints, bullet fragments or discarded weapons. They also seek to determine the cause and time of death.

They interview anyone who may have been in or near the area at the time of a crime. They interview the friends and family of the victims to learn about their routines and lifestyles. They seek to establish motives, and search for eyewitnesses, weapons and any other evidence that might lead to a suspect.

Detective Lt. Robert C. Krauser, a 25-year veteran of the Cheltenham Township Police Department, said his detectives sometimes work around the clock for two or three days to "run down all the hot leads."

"After that initial burst of activity, you have a pretty good idea of what sort of murder it is," he said.

Local police departments are assisted by the Montgomery County District Attorney's Detective Bureau, which has a staff of 22 detectives, including a special homicide unit of six detectives. The department also has a van that is well-equipped with the tools of the trade and can be driven to the scene of a crime to assist in the processing of evidence. The tools include laser equipment that "reads" fingerprints.

"Nine chances out of 10, the murder was committed by someone the individual knew," said chief county Detective Oscar P. Vance.

He said investigators depend on people acquainted with a killer for information that might lead to an arrest. A killer, he said, often will tell someone about the crime.

"About every murder investigation that I've been involved with in 26 years, we solved because somebody told us something," he said.

Lack of evidence is the problem.

Take the Stimson case.

At a court hearing last month, Montgomery County Detective Donald Rohner named Stimson's friend, Eddie Miller, as the prime suspect in the case. But investigators said that they had insufficient evidence to arrest Miller then. Common Pleas Court Judge William T. Nicholas said the investigators could keep three of Miller's handguns for future ballistics testing.

After the hearing, Mary Stimson said she was in "a state of shock" to learn that Miller was the prime suspect.

"I don't think we want to accuse anybody," Mary Stimson said in a recent interview. "The police just sort of have to do their job, which we hope they will."

Then there is the case of 20-year-old Susan Schloo of Upper Southampton.

She was last seen cleaning an office building at the Mason's Mill Business Park in Bryn Athyn about 8:30 p.m. July 25, 1985. Two hours later, the burned shell of her 1977 Ford Granada was found in the 700 block of Susquehanna Road in the Fox Chase section of Philadelphia, about four miles away. Her body was recovered five days later, a mile from the office park.

There were no witnesses. The weather had been wet and humid, destroying evidence in the woods where her body was found. The car, which may have borne fingerprints or other clues, had been burned.

Everything police learned about Schloo indicated that she had been an innocent victim - someone in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"She was just a very, very nice person from what we could find out," said Bryn Athyn Police Chief Mason Adams.

Police and volunteers combed the area and searched from the air in a helicopter for evidence. Adams has listed the murder with the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, an FBI data bank that is used to trace serial murders. As part of the investigation, the authorities hypnotized a possible witness, but were unable to learn anything new from that person.

"We came up with nothing," Adams said, adding, "Somebody knows what happened, and that's what we're looking for. . . . It drives me crazy every time I go out in the patrol car and go out to the area where her body was found. I have to think about it, and that it's unsolved."

Investigators say some murders are difficult to solve because the victims might have been involved in criminal activity. In such a case, "the victim's lifestyle was conducive to violence," said Cheltenham's Krauser.

Krauser said that such murders are often committed by people who do not live in the area, and that those with knowledge of the crimes are reluctant to work with police.

Other murder investigations are difficult because the crimes were well planned and executed.

"People think we can solve every crime in the book because we're the police," Krauser said. "But we're so tied down by the shortage of manpower and the sheer volume of crime."

Officials say there always is hope that crucial new evidence can be obtained, enabling them to make an arrest.

For example, it has been almost five years since the body of 19-year-old Helen Adam was found in the charred remains of her apartment bedroom on Blair Mill Road in Upper Moreland. Police said she had died of multiple head injuries before the fire. Although Tidwell declined to give details, he said he had started to make progress in his investigation of the case during the last few months.

New technology also may help to solve old crimes, and last week, Tidwell

sent some of his evidence to FBI headquarters in Washington for additional testing that was not available at the time of the murder.

"It would be terrible to put a case like this up on a shelf and forget about it," Tidwell said. "We'll get him."

For the families of victims, an unsolved murder is an ongoing nightmare. ''It's very hard to live with," Mary Stimson said. "It's just something you have to live with every day, and hope someday we'll know why."

"I don't think Keith is out of my mind for five minutes anymore," she added.

Mary Stimson said that she and her husband, Edward Stimson 3d, and older son, Edward Stimson 4th, have been supported emotionally by many friends and family members during the last year. But she said the house seemed quiet and empty, a constant reminder of Keith's death. It once was filled with the boisterous laughter of teenage boys and the rhythms of their music.

"It seems everywhere you turn there is some crazy memory of Keith," Mary Stimson said.

The widow of another victim declined to be interviewed, saying in a tense whisper, "I don't want to stir anything up."

The murder of Susan Schloo almost three years ago changed the lives of her family.

"A murder like this is just not real," said Hannelore Schloo, Susan's mother. "It's just the pits for someone not to come home. . . . You just literally live from day to day. You would like to be able to put something like this behind you, but how can you? She's missing from our family."

The first ordeal for the Schloos was a five-day wait from the time a police officer appeared at their door to tell them Susan's car had been found until the time her body was discovered.

Although Adams said air and ground searches were launched the day she was reported missing, the Schloo family said they were not aware of this activity.

"It seemed as if nothing was being done by the police," Hannelore Schloo said.

As part of her own investigation, she said, she took photos of Susan to numerous hospital emergency rooms, and the family pleaded with WCAU-TV (Channel 10) to get the station to broadcast a story, which it did three days after Susan disappeared.

Family members said they were sure something had happened to Susan because of the fire in the car she had recently purchased.

"She was just so proud to have her first car," recalled her sister, Linda Schloo-Yazujian. "When we found out it was set on fire, something had to be wrong."

The county detectives were not called in until Susan's body was found. Schloo-Yazujian said she overheard a detective say, " 'We're five days late in our investigation.' "

"Those words ring in my ears quite often," she said. "Time is crucial."

The family considered hiring a private detective, but said it would have been too costly. Some wanted $1,000 retainers, Hannelore Schloo said.

"In other words, they could soak you dry and you could come up with nothing," she added.

Then there is the fear of another attack.

Susan's mother and sister said that they often wondered whether Susan's killer had taken her identification out of her bag. They have taken security measures as a result.

"It's about three years, and the clown hasn't been found yet," said Hannelore Schloo. "I can't understand it for the life of me."

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