GREAT BEND, Kan. (KSNW) — Investigators say they have new DNA evidence in the 20-year-old murders at a Dolly Madison bakery in Great Bend. As the Kansas Bureau of Investigation made the announcement Tuesday afternoon, a family member of one of the victims expressed anger at the KBI.
Cory Latham, Kansas Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge, said the KBI, Great Bend Police Department, and Barton County Sheriff’s Office hope the new evidence will help them solve the crime.
When he was finished speaking, Desiree Werth, step-sister of Mandi Alexander, confronted him about what she called a lack of communication with the victims’ families.
“I am so mad at you guys!” she said.
Werth said she got a call from the KBI last week but was not told about the new evidence.
“To hang up the phone and read on Facebook that you have new evidence when I asked him point blank, ‘Do you have anything new that you can tell me?'” Werth said. “And I’m supposed to read between the lines (that) update meaning new evidence? Now, how in the world was I ever supposed to pick up that clue?”
On Sept. 4, 2002, 24-year-old Alexander, who worked at the bakery outlet, and 79-year-old customer Mary Drake were killed. It happened inside the business, at one of the busiest intersections in Great Bend, sometime between 5 and 6:30 p.m.
A Dolly Madison driver who made an unplanned visit to the store found the bodies around 8 p.m. They were in a pool of blood. The murder weapon was never found. Someone mentioned seeing a man leave the business, but the description never led to an arrest.
In KSN’s previous reports about the murders, police said they were having trouble finding a motive. Very little money was taken from the business. They also considered that Alexander was going through a custody battle at the time, but her ex-husband had an alibi.
The bakery at 1004 Harrison shut down shortly after the murders.
The Great Bend Police Department and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation followed up on hundreds of leads but have not solved the case.
The KBI lists a $17,000 reward for an arrest and conviction in the case.
New DNA evidence
On Tuesday afternoon, Latham said advances in forensic science have helped find new evidence. He said that over the past year, KBI special agents and forensic scientists completed an exhaustive review of all the physical evidence collected in the case. They reassessed the potential for additional results by using current forensic technologies, especially those that have had significant advancements since the killings.
As a result, DNA from a man was discovered on a sample collected from the body of one of the victims.
“That in and of itself is pretty significant,” Latham said.
But he said the DNA profile is Y-STR which can only be used in terms of direct comparison.
“What I mean by that is we need to have the name of an individual, and then we’ll go ask that individual to give us a sample of their DNA and then we can compare that,” Latham said. “It is not a profile that we can place into a national database and search at this time.”
He would not say which victim the DNA was found on or the type of sample, just that it is small. He said it is too small to involve one of the ancestry or genealogy websites.
The KBI said that its agents and Great Bend police detectives have collected numerous DNA samples for comparison but have not found any matches yet. They will continue trying to find a match.
“We’ve compared individuals. We’ve eliminated individuals, and we’re still obviously looking for the right person, which is why we’re holding this press conference today,” Latham said. “We hope that we can, we can find that individual out there that may be holding on to just a little bit of information, hoping that we can find an individual that is willing to share that little detail that maybe they haven’t shared in the past or that suspicion about an individual that we can then utilize in our investigation.”
He said that even if the person has moved away or died, the KBI can still use the DNA.
“The one advantage that Y-STRs offer is that it’s inherited on the male side,” Latham said. “So, if we’re not able to collect from that individual, but that individual’s son, or that individual’s brother or that individual’s dad is around, we can still make that link and then, you know, put together an investigation from there.”
“We’ve already collected DNA from numerous individuals,” he said. “We have more people on the list that we’d like to go collect from, and we’re really hopeful that the public will come forward and give us the right name as well, and so, you know, at this point, it’s old-fashioned police work.”
He said investigators are going to try to collect samples from more people and take them back to the lab for comparison.
If you have information about this crime, call the KBI at 1-800-KS-CRIME. In addition, Latham said that you can submit an anonymous tip online at KBI.KS.gov/SAR or by calling Barton County Crime Stoppers at 1-888-305-1300.
After Latham spoke, Werth began asking him questions and accusing the KBI of not keeping victims’ families informed.
“I don’t expect detail by detail by detail, but we would rather hear you pick up the phone and tell us, ‘Hey, we’re not, we don’t really have any new evidence to give you, but we want you to know that we care and we are still here,’ than to hear nothing at all from you,” Werth said. “Do you understand what that feels like? Apparently not!”
“Ma’am, what I can tell you is that we’ve talked to your mother over the years many, many times,” Latham said. “We’ve been in communication with the family many times, and we’ve always told them that if we get something significant that we will absolutely share that with you, and here we are today.”
He said that the family can call or come by the KBI office anytime they like.
Werth said that when the family calls, she feels they are bothering the KBI.
“We’re treated like dirt on your shoe by the tone in your voice and your short comments like we’re, like you’re trying to get us off the phone,” she said.
After she said that, Latham invited her to visit with him.
“If you’d like to visit with me about that afterwards, I’d be happy to,” he said.