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Years later, a too-long list of murder cases unresolved

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© St. Petersburg Times, published December 3, 2000

Nineteen years have now gone by since the night I began promising parents of murdered children and others that I would do what I could to see that their cases didn't go away.

The night I made the first promise, to Marjorie and Bob Goldstein outside the ICU unit where their 14-year-old daughter, Elana, was about to be disconnected from life support, I thought I was commiting myself to a matter of days.

Police agencies were scouring the area near Quail Hollow, where she was shot, from the air, from their vehicles and on-foot.

But, as far as anyone knows, the man who killed Elana Goldstein died in prison 12 years later, still playing catch-me-if-you-can games with detectives who are convinced he was their man, and leaving her mother (her father has since died) to wonder if he was.

Over the years, names have been added to and taken off the list, more, sadly, added than removed.

Still the names and the histories are in the forefront of the minds of the police agencies involved, and still the police leap into action when a familiar name or similar actions turn up.

Last June, Hernando detectives became very interested in a Virginia case similar to that of Jennifer Odom, 12, who was kidnapped Feb. 19, 1993, from near her school bus stop in Pasco County and found, murdered, six days later in Hernando County.

A Spotsylvania, Va., girl, 11, had reportedly been grabbed by a man driving a pickup truck with Florida tags. A blue truck was seen near the point where Jennifer disappeared, but the truck was never completely tied to her disappearance.

In 1998, detectives had also jumped into action when a Maine man was accused by his ex-wife of murdering Jennifer, but a grand jury didn'tbelieve the woman's story.

The work goes on. A new detective has been assigned to the county's "cold cases" and will soon begin applying technology to the old cases that didn't exist when they occurred. Additionally, the department will soon be launching a Web site with information about the cases that will give users a chance to review them and to volunteer information, anonymously.

Other unsolved Hernando cases include that of Diane Wentworth, 19, found strangled in a rural area in 1983. An arrest was made in that case, but the man arrested was acquitted. Detectives consider that case closed.

Also on Hernando County and the City of Brooksville's plates, after 19 years, is the 1981 murder of Ricky Merrill and Dori Colyer, a young Brooksville couple who were injected with drugs and then burned to death in a vehicle parked in downtown Brooksville.

Like Elana Goldstein's father, Merrill's parents, who had asked me for help in 1982, did not live to find out what happened to their son and his friend. They were killed in a plane crash, with another son, in 1988.

The Merrill-Colyer case is another in which investigators feel sure that they know who committed the murder, but they have insufficient evidence to make an arrest.

Along with their crucial interest in the Odom case, Pasco detectives are still actively investigating the death of Sharra Ferger, 9, who disappeared from her home in Blanton on Oct. 3, 1997, and was found dead in a nearby field. She had been stabbed 30 times, bitten and sexually assaulted. A neighbor was arrested and charged with the murder, but was later released when bite mark evidence used to arrest him was determined to be inconclusive.

Prosecutors have named in open court two men -- Sharra's uncle, Gary Elishi Cochran, and Gary Steven Cannon -- as suspects in her slaying, but neither has been charged in the crime.

Cannon was convicted in 1999 of robbing and beating a 70-year-old man three weeks after the attack on Ferger, but that conviction was overturned last week by an appeals court. No new trial date has been set.

Pasco's open files include the case of Helen "Wendy" LaRoche, who was a 21-year-old newlywed when she was shot to death during a convenience store robbery in 1986.

Also on Pasco's unsolved list is the death of Travis Crouch, a 20-month-old boy who died in January 1998 after a massive head injury apparently suffered at his Port Richey home, where police say he was alone with his father Jeffrey Crouch and the father's then-girlfriend, Anna May Becker.

Crouch, who had been acquitted in 1997 on charges that he strangled his wife, Linda, in 1997, denied assaulting the child (from a later wife), as did his girlfriend.

On Tuesday, after pleading no contest to dragging yet another girlfriend out of her car, slapping her and pulling her hair, Crouch was sentenced to serve 10 days in jail on weekends -- and to undergo, at his own request, anger management training.

But he ended up behind bars a little earlier than planned. Crouch was taken to the county lockup on Wednesday evening after Port Richey police spotted him walking down the street with the woman he had just been convicted of battering, which violated a no-contact order.

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