JASPER & WHITE COUNTIES, Ind. (WLFI) - Every Thursday night for the next four weeks, News 18 will take an in-depth look at area homicide cases where the trail has gone cold. In Part 1, we go back 24 years to tell the story of a murdered woman, the victim of a serial killer.
In the last 15 to 40 years, the names may have faded from memory for many residents. But for the investigators and families involved, they are just as fresh as ever.
Spotty snow dotted the landscape around the Days Inn at the Remington exit of I-65 and U.S. 24 on March 3, 1989. A part-time night auditor from Rensselaer, Ind., Jeanne Gilbert doesn't usually work the midnight to 7 a.m. shift on Fridays because she works full-time as a bookkeeper for an oil company. But the divorced mother of two had traded shifts so she wouldn't miss her daughter's last game as a Tri-County High School cheerleader.
Jeanne's father Andy Mitchell remembers he was on his way to work in Hobart early that morning.
"I got a call on my pager to call the office," Andy remembers, as he chokes up.
His wife Pat had called him with the news that Jeanne was missing.
"Hi, my name is Jeanne Gilbert," is the way a prized Mitchell family video begins.
Jeanne filmed it for a finance class at St. Joseph's College about a year before her murder. Even in a serious demonstration speech her personality is evident, playfully rolling her eyes trying to find the right spot in the newspaper.
At first, Jeanne's just missing, along with $247 from the Days Inn. But by the time Andy can drive to the motel, Jeanne's naked body has been discovered in the next county.
A school bus full of kids found her body in a ditch on County Road 150 West in White County, between County Road 900 and 950 South. The location was more than 20 miles away from the Days Inn, 2.5 miles northwest of Brookston.
Jeanne had been raped.
The 34-year-old was shot multiple times, with defensive wounds evident from where she tried to fight off her attacker.
Just hours earlier and 50 miles away, another Days Inn night clerk was killed under similar circumstances. Mary Gill, 24, was killed with the same 22-caliber handgun at the Merrillville Days Inn at I-65 and U.S. 30. She was robbed of $179 and taken to a vacant area of the motel where she was shot in the head.
"Which has led us to believe naturally that we're dealing with a serial killer," says Indiana State Police First Sgt. Tom McKee.
A serial killer who McKee says has struck before.
PHOTOS | COLD CASE INVESTIGATION, PART 1
Two years earlier, a motel clerk was raped and murdered again along I-65 in Elizabethtown, Ky., in 1987.
Then a man attacks another Days Inn clerk in Columbus, Ind., in January 1990, almost 10 months to the day after Jeanne's death.
McKee says DNA links the same man to all four crimes.
"All research pretty much says that serial killers don't stop, at least stop willingly," he adds.
But, since 1990, the case has gone cold.
Did Jeanne's killer die, taking his crimes to the grave? Is he in prison somewhere serving a long sentence?
It's all speculation.
"It bothers me that we haven't been able to bring someone to justice," says McKee.
Possible suspects through the years and linked crimes from New Mexico to Michigan have not been a match for Jeanne's killer.
"I hope it was a slow painful death if he died. That's the way I look at it. And if he's not, I hope when he does, it will be," says Pat.
In 24 years, some things have changed.
The Days Inn at the Remington exit has become the Sunset Inn. Corn and soybeans grow on County Road 150 West, northwest of Brookston, Ind.
And a woman who balanced two jobs along with going to school and being a loving mother to a 17-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son would now be a mother of two adults and a grandmother to three.
But, in 24 years, some things have not changed, most notably the pain of two parents who lost their daughter too soon.
Andy chokes up when asked to name his most prized memory of Jeanne. After a long pause and with tears in his eyes, he says, "I had a lot of them."
Indiana State Police need your help to find Jeanne's killer. If you believe you have any information that could be helpful in solving this crime, contact the Lafayette post at (765) 567-2125 and ask for 1st Sgt. Tom McKee or Sgt. Bryan Harper.
Thanks to the 1990 case, Jeanne's killer is described as a white male, between 5 feet 10 inches and 6 feet tall, weighing approximately 180 pounds. He had salt and pepper hair, a beard and mustache. Police say he also has a lazy right eye.
Two vehicles of interest were sought by the police at different times.
First, before her body was discovered, a light-colored Toyota window van was seen leaving the Brookston area at a high rate of speed.
Then, on April 18, 1991, a motorist at an I-65 rest stop in White County says he saw a man who matched the description of the composite sketch. The motorist claimed he helped a man jump start a purple Chevrolet truck with Virginia license plates, then later saw the sketch inside the rest stop building. Police searched the area but were never able to find the truck.
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