A cold, cold case of murder

From the Belleville [IL] News-Democrat--

A cold, cold case of murder
Decades later, mystery remains unsolved

AMES - Drenching thunderstorms turn a murder on a warm June night into
a disaster for Illinois State Police investigators.

Heavy rain washes away blood and footprints from the Huskey family's
lawn on a rural Ames Road, where 25-year-old Shirley Huskey lies dead,
her throat slashed. Inside the house, a 2-year-old girl and her
5-month-old brother, tucked safely in their beds, slept through the
attack on their mother.

Huskey, clad in a nightgown, is found about 1:30 a.m. by her husband,
Dan Huskey, as he returns from his job at a nearby coal mine. After
searching the little house at the edge of Monroe County farmland, he
looks outside and finally spots his wife's crumpled form under a small

Despite a solid year of investigation, no arrest is made.

Nearly 29 years later, the evergreen is higher than the roof, maybe 25
feet to its top. And Shirley Huskey's murder remains unsolved, all but
forgotten except by relatives. Another family lives in the home.

Given the nature of what happened there, it was easy to imagine there
was something sinister about the place. A shadowy gingerbread house
hiding a long ago, wicked witch kind of mystery. But Shirley Huskey
was no wicked witch.

Donna Conley remembers summer days and weekends when she and her best
friend Shirley would meet in a small patch of woods. There, they could
talk -- about anything.

Thoughts of her friend still bring tears to Conley, who otherwise
mostly laughs when she remembers the "trouble" she and Shirley found.

"It was just silliness, pranks. Shirley would say, 'We can't do that?
Sure we can do that. Who said we can't do that?' And off we'd go."

Conley, 54, lives in Knobel, Ark. About a month ago, Conley said she
suddenly started thinking about Shirley. An uneasy feeling that
wouldn't go away overtook her, she said.

It was about a secret between them, one that Conley said still makes
her feel guilty.

On a whim, Conley called the North County News in Waterloo and asked
whether they had published stories about Huskey's death. Conley was
told that two News-Democrat reporters had recently asked for and
received the same articles.

Just a few days later, Conley drove nearly five hours to the
News-Democrat's office in Belleville to deliver a photograph of
Huskey. And to reveal the secret.

When Huskey was 17, Conley advised her friend to turn to a local
priest for advice about how to convince her parents she was old enough
for a boyfriend. Instead of offering guidance, the priest raped
Shirley, Conley said.

"She said that she would have to be killed before she would go through
that again," Conley said, adding that Huskey never told anyone other
than her because her family revered priests and she thought she would
not be believed.

The suspects

Police questioned the priest, now deceased, about Huskey's killing,
said retired Illinois State Police investigator Ed Muzzy, who now
heads security at the Casino Queen in East St. Louis.

However, the clergyman was one of several suspects who were
interrogated after Dan Huskey was cleared of his wife's murder, Muzzy
said last week. Then a state trooper, he had been the Huskey case
chief investigator.

A local newspaper reported that a wild looking man had been seen in a
field and at a nearby cave in the days after the murder. Police could
not locate him.

"That was the problem. There was no one person who clearly jumped out
as having done it," he said.

Muzzy would not respond to Conley's statement that Huskey said a
priest raped her.

He did, however, eliminate her husband as a suspect.

"I don't think he did it. I owe him that," Muzzy said.

That was a big relief for Dan Huskey, now of Colstrip, Mont., and
still a coal miner. He raised his children and never remarried.

For months after his wife's funeral, police pressured Huskey,
subjecting him to endless interrogations, two polygraphs and even a
session with a hypnotist.

"I wanted to punch that Muzzy right in the nose," he said.

Muzzy said he had little choice but to target Dan Huskey, given that
in most murders involving a married woman as a victim, a husband or
boyfriend is ultimately convicted.

"You don't know what it's like unless you go through it. It was a
living hell," Huskey said during a telephone interview.

Because Huskey has an unlisted telephone number, a reporter initially
called his brother in Idaho who agreed to call him. More than a week
went by until Huskey called back on Feb. 14, Valentine's Day -- and
Shirley Huskey's birthday.

"I have tried to put this out of my mind for years. It was a terrible
thing. But if it will help find Shirley's killer, then go ahead. Ask
me questions," he said.

During another interview a week ago, Huskey was told about his wife's
friend's statement about the rape.

"You sure you want to hear about this?" he was asked.

"Go ahead," Huskey said.

Then, after hearing Conley's account, he said, "I'm in shock. I've
never heard that before. It must have happened just before I met

Huskey said he knew the priest because he had married them.

"It must have been terrible for Shirley. Having him right there, the
son of a bitch," he said.

"Everybody knew that father was having an affair with a woman who
worked for the parish, but I never suspected he could do anything like

The murder scene

Shirley Huskey died June 22, 1977, decades before an incredible rise
in forensic technology, as depicted on television shows like "CSI:
Miami." It was before the DNA era.

Muzzy, the retired investigator, said, "I think if a murder like this
were to happen today, God forbid, we'd be able to find out a lot

Dan Huskey recalled the night of the murder.

"Nothing was out of the ordinary," he said.

He pulled into the driveway and parked next to his wife's 1-year-old
Chevrolet Malibu. There were no signs of a break-in, although the side
screen door was open.

After a search of the tiny house, Huskey found his two children asleep
in their beds, but their mother was nowhere to be found. He turned his
search outdoors and found Shirley.

Lightning knocked out most telephones in Red Bud about five miles
away, preventing a call to police for about an hour. Even when word
about the death finally got to officers, other local emergencies
slowed their response.

During this limbo before police arrived, the dead woman's brother and
his wife, who also lived along Ames Road, showed up. Because a few
local telephone lines were still working, they had gotten a frantic
call from Dan Huskey that he had just found his wife's body.

They quickly gathered in the kitchen while outside, Shirley Huskey's
body lay in the front yard covered with a sheet.

As they waited, someone tidied up, making coffee, then washing the
cups and a sink top, apparently not realizing that the key to finding
a murderer might be flowing down the drain.

At a coroner's inquest in October 1977, Dan Huskey said he found water
on the bathroom floor that he attributed to rain blowing through an
open window. He testified that he mopped it up with towels.

A sheriff's deputy testified that blood smears found on the kitchen
sink, telephone and telephone book came from blood that Dan Huskey had
picked up on his hands when he touched his wife's body to determine
whether she was alive.

The deputy also testified that a steak knife, one of five, was missing
from the kitchen. He stated that bruises on her arms may have been
caused by being flung to the ground.

It could not be determined whether a sexual assault occurred.

At the time, then Monroe County Sheriff Milton "Pat" Brueggemann said
Huskey was likely killed inside and left on the lawn, according to a
newspaper account.

During the February telephone interview, Dan Huskey described his
search of the house, and his growing unease:

"I went into our bedroom ... and Shirley wasn't in bed ... When I went
into the bathroom, I just got to noticing that the bathroom window was
open. And the light was on. And there was a lot of bugs around that
light. That got me concerned. Then I went into the kids' bedroom. No
Shirley ... I looked through the house. Upstairs ... I'm feeling a
little concerned at this time. I went outside, across the back yard.
It was misty. The ground was wet. Went through the back yard and into
the garage. Looked. Went around to the front yard. Looked. As I came
back around the front yard, I looked over the corner. At the time
there was a lot of big bushes. Next to the house. There in the corner
.... I didn't see it when I walked by. I never noticed. I looked at
her, and, I mean, I seen her. She had a nightgown on. White, pink,
something like that. I knew she was dead."

Amateurs with Luminol

Joe Candler and his wife and small son live in the former Huskey
residence. Like many in this sparsely populated area, he has always
wondered what really happened to Shirley Huskey.

So, when reporters asked whether they could search for traces of
29-year-old blood in his cellar by spraying with a special chemical
used by police, he was game.

The chemical, purchased through the Internet, is Luminol. It's
corrosive but will not destroy DNA evidence. If blood is present, even
a tiny amount will glow blue in the dark after being sprayed with
Luminol, even after many years.

According to an online article posted by the Shriver House Museum in
Gettysburg, Pa., Luminol detected 143-year-old blood on a house floor
where a wounded Civil War soldier had been treated.

The theory was that if the water Dan Huskey found on the bathroom
floor was actually left by the killer cleaning up blood, traces that
flowed through floor cracks might remain on the interior of the cellar

Candler, who plans to renovate, had already removed some of the
ceiling tiles below the bathroom. He said that as far as he knew, they
had been there when the murder occurred. The shards were retrieved
from a trash can and later tested at a Belleville home.

Sure enough, after the Luminol was sprayed on three pieces and the
lights turned off, a blue glow was observed. But it was not bright
enough to photograph.

However, it takes a forensic expert to discern the difference between
a glowing blue that reacts to blood, and one that reacts to traces of
certain cleaning chemicals.

Luminol was not going to give a potential answer to the murder
mystery. The way to an answer seemed blocked. Except maybe for the
police file.

But Capt. Greg Fernandez of the Illinois State Police in Collinsville
said that while the file on Shirley Huskey's death is safeguarded, it
cannot, by regulation, be examined except by police.

"If there is new evidence or something significant comes up," he said,
"we'll investigate."


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