DNA helps solve two cold
Police: Kathleen McSharry, Theresa Clark
killed by same man
By Blackwell Thomas - The Southern
Thursday, September 18, 2008
CARBONDALE - A new technique for
identifying DNA has helped Carbondale Police solve two cold murder cases
and they say it could help law enforcement agencies everywhere do the
On Thursday, police announced that they
had closed the books on the 1976 murder of Kathleen McSharry by using
degraded DNA evidence to link convicted murderer John Paul Phillips to
The technique, known as Mini STR sampling,
allows police to use DNA materials that previously would have been too
damaged or decayed to be of any use.
In this case, the police used skin samples
found underneath the fingernails of McSharry's left hand. The samples
were taken at McSharry's autopsy in July 1976 and matched DNA extracted
from a femur bone from Phillips.
Phillips died in 1993 while on death row
for the murder of Joan Wetherall, another Carbondale resident who was
strangled with a rope, clubbed on the head with a hammer and left naked
in a strip pit north of Carbondale in 1981.
William Frank, a DNA research coordinator
with the state police's Research and Development Lab, explained the new
"As DNA degrades, it (the amount of
useable material) gets smaller and smaller," he said. "This (mini STR
testing) allows us to use it as it gets smaller and degraded."
Frank said the new technology has
increased by a factor of 100 the ability of scientists to identify DNA
compared to earlier DNA technology, which he said was from "the age of
dinosaurs" in comparison.
Illinois State Police is the first law
enforcement agency to use the technology, Frank said.
McSharry's nude body was found in her
Allyn Street apartment bedroom by her roommate July 12, 1976. The 24-year-old
Southern Illinois University Carbondale student was stabbed in the back,
had her throat slit and was sexually assaulted.
Police also announced they were closing
the books on the 1975 murder of 23-year-old Theresa Clark, who was found
dead in her apartment in a manner almost identical to McSharry's.
Carbondale Police Officer Lt. Paul Echols
said the cases were mirrors of one another and that from the outset of
the McSharry investigation, police believed the two crimes were
committed by the same person.
This fact, coupled with a jailhouse
confession Phillips gave to his cellmate in the early 1980s in which he
admitted to killing McSharry, Clark and Wetherall, was enough for police
to close the books on the Clark case, said Echols.
"We are comfortable to close the Clark
case," he said.
Chief Bob Ledbetter credited Frank and the
state forensics lab and said he was pleased to have two cold cases
closed and that he was excited by the new technology's capabilities.
"It is truly exciting to watch the
evolution of the technology that is enabling us to solve crimes," he
said. "I've watched it evolve from a fingerprint being the best way to
identify a suspect."
testing rules out suspect in 20-year-old Southern Illinois U. murder
By Phil Beckman -
Thursday, September 26, 2002
Carbondale, Ill. - Convicted murderer John Paul Phillips was eliminated
as a suspect in the 1981 murder of an Southern Illinois University
student after a test showed that his DNA did not match DNA found at the
scene, Carbondale police said Monday.
On Oct. 30, 2001, Carbondale police officers
supervised the exhumation of Phillips body at the Rose Hill Cemetery in
Marion. A portion of Phillips' leg bone was taken from the remains and
was sent to the Illinois State Police DNA Lab in Springfield.
"From the police department's standpoint, since his
genetic code does not match the evidence, and we strongly feel the
evidence was left by the suspect, this eliminates him as a suspect,"
said Carbondale Police Sgt. Paul Echols.
Susan K. Schumake was raped and murdered on Aug. 17,
1981. Her body was found in a wooded area between U.S. 51 and the
Illinois Central Gulf railroad tracks near a trail the students at the
time called the "Ho Chi Minh Trail." Schumake was 21 and a senior in
Now, Echols said, police will research the case file
to look for other possible suspects from the original investigation.
Carbondale Police Chief R.T. Finney said if leads are
developed, the police department will dedicate manpower to them.
"We will do that on murder cases," Finney said. "That's
never a question. We'll do what we have to to get them solved."
Among the possible suspects was a man who was a
drifter at the time and was questioned by police in connection with the
Schumake murder. Echols said Carbondale police have kept an eye on him
during the years and know where he is. Echols declined to give his name
since the man remains a possible suspect.
The DNA sample left at the crime scene was also
tested against others in the database and no match was found. Echols
said now that it is known that the person who left the genetic material
at the crime scene is not in the database, this eliminates many
Phillips' DNA will also become part of the Illinois
DNA database and will be accessible by law enforcement agencies across
With the expansion of the DNA database to include all
felons, as the years go by, the DNA profile from the crime scene will be
compared to other samples that are added.
Phillips was convicted of the 1981 murder of Joan
Wetherall and sentenced to death in 1986. He was charged after
confessing to a cellmate in 1983 that he had murdered Theresa Clark,
Kathleen McSharry and Wetheral.
Phillips died of a heart attack in 1993 while on
death row and was never charged in the Schumake case.
Police said evidence collected from the 1976 McSharry
murder was insufficient for DNA profiling and thus were not able to
determine if Phillips was connected to the murder. Finney said Phillips
remains a suspect.