Six years after killing, face could trigger memories

Published August 19, 2007

Homicide detectives work as a team during the first hours and days of a case, since that is the most critical time to search for clues, interview witnesses and gather evidence. The longer a case remains open, the more difficult it becomes to solve.

St. Petersburg has averaged almost 22 slayings per year for the last 10 years. Most of them have been solved with an arrest, but several remain open. Many of these unsolved cases are described on our Web site, www.stpete.org/police, but not everyone visits the site, so I occasionally present the facts of a case to ask for the public's help.

Betty Jean Bates, a 42-year-old woman with a rap sheet, was one of 21 homicide victims in St. Petersburg in 2001. She was killed and her body dumped in a secluded lot behind a church on 26th Avenue S. The killer doused her with a flammable liquid and burned her body beyond recognition. We first received the call as a fire on Feb. 21, 2001, at 4:13 a.m.

The media helped by featuring photos of the victim's distinctive jewelry, which later produced information that helped us positively identify her. Since then, we have interviewed friends and acquaintances, many of whom had seen her in the 24 hours before her body was discovered. One witness remembered seeing a white, older-model, full-size cargo van with a dent on the right front door leave the scene at high speed with its lights out. We are still looking for the driver.

I am including her photo with the hope of reviving someone's memory. If anyone has information, call (727) 893-7164.

Bill Proffitt, St. Petersburg Police Department spokesman