News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 17, 2013

Answers Are Out There: Several homicides in the Wabash Valley remain unsolved — but authorities continue to search for the truth

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Somebody knows.

Those two words are common to several homicide cases around the Wabash Valley that remain unsolved by investigators.

Somebody knows the names, places and circumstances involving the deaths of about a dozen people — sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, parents, friends — in communities around the Wabash Valley.

The unsolved status of these cases not only saddens the families whose loved ones have died, but frustrates the law enforcement agencies who want to bring justice to the victims.

A recent survey of unsolved or “cold” cases around the Wabash Valley revealed at least 15 homicides in the Clay, Parke, Putnam, Sullivan, Vermillion and Vigo counties.

The most recent — the shooting death of Lowell Badger, 85, of Sullivan County — occurred Dec. 8 at his rural Merom home. The Indiana State Police are investigating the homicide, and a $35,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible for Badger’s death.

More than 20 years later

“What you always hope on these cold cases is that something bothers somebody’s conscience so that they come forward,” said Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter, who reviews information on five unsolved homicides in the county.

One of those cases involves Marsa Gipson, a 28-year-old mother of two who was driving on Interstate 70 in August 1991 when two 20-pound rocks were thrown from an overpass bridge onto the front of Gipson’s Chevrolet Camaro.

One of the rocks crashed through the driver’s side windshield, striking and killing Gipson, who was driving westbound en route to Terre Haute to pick up her young children.

The investigation into the incident has continued through the years.

“We still get calls about it, and we will look into them,” Bookwalter said. In fact, investigators sent evidence in the case off for DNA testing in 2011, hoping that new information would be revealed that could lead to an arrest in the case.

Soon to be in the cards

Three homicides investigated over the years by the Terre Haute Police Department will be included in the third edition of Indiana Cold Case Homicides Playing Cards, to be released by the Indiana Department of Correction in April as part of Victim’s Rights Week.

THPD Assistant Chief Shawn Keen said he hopes that getting information out to the public about the deaths of Pam Milam, Donte Bridgeman and Anthony Loftson will bring resolution to the cases.

Milam of Terre Haute was a student at Indiana State University when her body was found in the trunk of her car in September 1972. She had been gagged, Keen said, and an autopsy determined that she suffocated.

Bridgeman was found shot to death on Dec. 10, 2006 at his home in the 1500 block of Eagle Street. Two men were reportedly seen running from the residence. Bridgeman was shot through the window of the home around 5 a.m.

Loftson has been missing since August 1993, when he was 20 years old. A black male, he was last seen in the area of Eighth and Cherry streets. His body has never been found.

Keen said that submitting those three cases for inclusion on the homicide playing cards is one way investigators in the department are hoping to get some new leads in those cases. Where evidence has been properly stored, investigators have also submitted items from older cases to crime labs in hopes that DNA evidence will reveal new leads.

They deserve justice

Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt said that unsolved homicides are regularly reviewed by police agencies, and he declines to call any case “cold” because it sounds as if investigations have stopped.

“There are several cases we wish we could solve,” Modesitt said. “All of them deserve to have justice. All of the families want closure.”

Having the right evidence to get a conviction, however, is not always easy.

“If we can get enough information, we will file charges,” Modesitt said. “It is our job to file charges. But, you only get one chance, and if you take a case to a jury, which acquits the defendant due to lack of evidence, then there is no justice.”

Clark Cottom, chief deputy at the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department, said investigators there regularly review unsolved homicides looking for new angles to pursue or checking information. In some cases, there are suspects that might be charged with a crime if someone could provide the right information.

For instance, Cottom said, one 15-year-old homicide was solved after an inmate in the Vigo County Jail gave a tip to police, connecting another suspect to the 1992 shooting death and robbery of cab driver Jerry Need. When police tracked down the suspect, Cottom said, the man told the detective that he had been waiting years to be questioned about the case. That suspect was later convicted by a jury.

Sadly, some families may not see the resolution of the case involving their loved one, Cottom said. Some victims’ families keep in contact with police to see if progress is being made in the case. It is unfortunate when those families get their hopes up for their own case by hearing about a different case being solved, he said.

But, somebody somewhere knows what happened in each case.

Anyone wanting to give information about an unsolved homicide can contact Wabash Valley Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477 or 812-238-STOP; the Indiana State Police at 765-653-5272, or the Terre Haute Police Department at 812-238-1661.