Cold case gets warmer

For Lula Johnson, Christmas isn’t the most wonderful time of the year.

On Dec. 22, 2001, Johnson’s brother, Willie Earl “Bo” Bedford, 46, was shot and killed in Columbiana.

Johnson’s grief mounts as the holiday season nears. She relives her family’s tragedy, and she never stops asking why.

“Bo and I were real close,” said Johnson, who lives in St. Clair County. “We were getting ready to do our Christmas party, and he had already bought his gag gift. Every year, we would try to see who would bring the worst gift, and he always tried to beat me.”

Johnson laughs, then pauses. “We just kind of stopped having Christmas after he was killed.”

Bedford’s murder has gone unsolved for nearly seven years, but last week the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office announced new information in the case.

Though details have not been released, investigators are confident their findings will eventually answer Johnson’s ultimate question.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it,” Johnson said. “And somebody’s out there thinking they’re getting away with murder.”

MURDER REVISITED

The Bedford murder is the number one priority of Shelby County’s volunteer cold case unit, which is comprised of five retired state and federal law enforcement agents.

Since its formation in January, the unit has interviewed or re-interviewed more than 50 witnesses and reviewed countless documents.

By all accounts, Bo Bedford was a decent, hard-working man who ran his own business, Bo Knows Work. He was the dependable neighborhood handyman who didn’t bother anyone, says investigator Steve Brannan.

“Most people that knew him liked him,” Brannan said. “He did a lot of good things for people.”

The sheriff’s office was bombarded with anonymous tips after Bedford’s body was found slumped over in a vehicle on Horton Farm Road. But once the case stopped making headlines, the tips slowed to a trickle.

Time is both an enemy and an ally in cold case investigations.

Relationships change, memories fade, and in Brannan’s experience, people find it increasingly difficult to keep their mouths shut.

“Columbiana isn’t a big city, and there aren’t a lot of secrets in Columbiana,” Brannan said. “Keeping quiet is slim to none.”

The sheriff’s office is offering a $5,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest. Brannan and Sheriff Chris Curry both expect “some kind of success.”

“We need someone to come forward to confirm the suspicions and theories we have,” Curry said. “There’s $5,000, and a window of opportunity to cooperate.”

“We’ve heard a lot of things, but hearsay doesn’t get you in court,” Brannan added. “Somebody needs to be worried, and we’re not going to quit investigating this case until it is solved.”

Since the investigation re-opened, Johnson has weekly contact with the cold case unit. She’s cautiously optimistic her brother’s killer will be brought to justice. Only time will tell.

“We know Bo’s not coming back, but his murder shouldn’t go unsolved,” Johnson said. “We don’t have any closure, and we hope somebody comes forward and says something.”

Anyone with information is urged to call the sheriff’s office at 669-4181 or the secret witness line at 669-9116.

People may also visit the Web site, www.shelbyso.com, and click on the “Report Criminal Activity” link.

All tips will remain anonymous.