Spokane County's newest weapon to track unsolved murders




Posted on November 4, 2013 at 5:28 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 8 at 6:11 PM

SPOKANE, Wash. -- In the last nine years, Spokane County detectives have solved every new murder, except one.  There are still, however, about 30 older, unsolved murders dating all the way back to the 1950's.

Now, police are trying to give those cold cases new attention with a seasoned set of eyes.

Spokane County Major Crimes Detectives Lyle Johnston and Kirk Keyser work cold cases when there's a lull in new crimes.  The problem is there aren't a lot of lulls, so Detective Johnston came up with an idea.

"…An idea to bring in volunteers because we didn't have the funding for full time detectives to work these cases,” said Johnston.

That's where Verne King comes in.
He's the newest weapon in the cold case unit.  Verne is volunteering to cast fresh eyes on the unsolved murder of 19-year-old Sherry Palmer in May of 1992.

"I have my own theory,” King said.

Sherry Palmer’s body was found in a heavily wooded area along Mt. Spokane Park Drive and Bill Gulch road.  There was a bag over her head and a bullet in her chest.  Detectives thought she might be the victim of a serial killer, but investigators have not known for sure for more than 20 years.

King is working to retrace the days before Sherry was killed.

“It'd be nice to find that clue that we need," he added.

Verne knows how to dig for that clue.  He retired as a lieutenant after 30 years with the Los Angeles Police Department.

The desire to help people drew him to the profession, and the same feeling comes flooding over him as he thumbs through the pages of the Palmer file.

"What you feel the most is, I keep reading where the mother and the grandmother and sister are calling the detectives continuously,” Verne said, “and they're hoping they can provide something that will enlighten the investigation."

Verne and another volunteer are hoping to shed light on another investigation, too: the unsolved murder of Catherine Avis. 

Avis’ decomposing body was found south of Valleyford in 2004.

The volunteers are flagging new potential leads for county detectives to follow.

"Well, with this case I feel sad because she was a mother of three and they'd probably like to know what happened to their mother," said King.

That was on the mind of Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, as well.

"For me, this is very much about closure for the families and to bring justice to the victims," Knezovich said.

For the detectives and volunteers, solving these cold cases isn't just about duty.  It's about devotion.

"You want to get that feeling that you've solved something,” King said.  “It's all kind of personal."

The Sheriff's Office is already thinking about adding more volunteers to the cold case unit.