Finish the puzzle: Cold case unit keeps hope alive
Published 2:56 pm Wednesday, July 29, 2015
By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor
COLUMBIANA – For Jim Dormuth and his six peers in the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit, Dec. 22, 2001, is an especially significant date.
Nearly 14 years ago, the Columbiana Police Department notified the sheriff’s office of an unresponsive man behind the wheel of a vehicle off Horton Farm Road just outside Columbiana city limits. When deputies arrived, they discovered 46-year-old Willie Earl “Bo” Bedford dead from a single gunshot wound to the head.
For several years after Bedford’s death, SCSO investigators spent countless hours interviewing witnesses, reviewing evidence and following leads in the case. However, leads eventually slowed to a trickle and public tips stopped rolling in, causing the case to move to the office’s Cold Case Unit, which was formed by several retired state and federal law enforcement agents in January 2008.
“The Beford case is on the top of our list. It was given a lot of investigative attention, but the leads ran dry,” Dormuth said during a July 29 interview. “We made headway on it, but we have not been able to bring it to a conclusion and identify a suspect.
“We need the public’s help,” Dormuth added. “We believe there are people in the community who may have direct or secondhand knowledge of the case and the people involved in it.”
Keeping hope alive
The Bedford murder is one of about a dozen unsolved cases ranging from homicides to arsons currently under investigation by the all-volunteer Cold Case Unit, which is composed of Dormuth, former Connecticut State Police officer Roger Beaupre, retired FBI agent Larry Strayer, former Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences investigator Ray White, longtime Shelby County Tax Assessor employee Larry Rooker and former federal agent Alton Sizemore.
The six men – some of who hold other part-time jobs – volunteer their time and talents to the SCSO in an effort to bring closure to some of the county’s most baffling crimes. All six men are fully sworn reserve SCSO deputies, and have the full resources of the office at their disposal.
With new cases rolling in nearly every day for the SCSO Criminal Investigation Division, the Cold Case Unit helps to ease the workload for the CID while keeping the focus on long-unsolved crimes, said SCSO Lt. Clay Hammac.
“The cases we have, all leads have been investigated, there is no additional evidence, no additional information and no suspects,” Dormuth said. “We have the luxury of being able to go back and re-interview people and find additional people we want to interview.”
‘These cases need to be resolved’
For family members of victims in unsolved cases – sometimes a generation or more removed from the victims themselves – a visit from a cold case investigator is a welcome event.
“The families seem very appreciative of what we are trying to do,” Dormuth said. “We always say ‘We’re not going to promise anything.’ They appreciate that attention is still being given (to the case).”
Since the Cold Case Unit was formed, it has brought conclusion to about six previously unsolved cases “in one form or another,” Dormuth said.
Beaupre and Strayer said they could not imagine spending their retirement any other way.
“Law enforcement is something that is part of your blood,” Beaupre said. “These cases need to be resolved just like the others.”
“Every law enforcement officer I have ever met wants to be a part of the solution, not just an observer,” Strayer added.
While the six men have decades of experience in a plethora of law enforcement roles, they are quick to point out their most valuable resource: The public.
“Anyone with any amount of information. It may be the one piece of the puzzle that may finish the photograph,” Beaupre said.
The Alabama governor’s office has issued a $5,000 reward for anyone who provides information leading to an arrest in the Bedford case. Anyone with information can report it by calling the Sheriff’s Office at 669-4181, calling the secret witness line at 669-9116 or by filing an anonymous tip at Shelbyso.com/report.php.
“We lack a little bit to put that to bed,” Dormuth said.