A tearful Maxine Dean reached up from her wheelchair to hug the neck of retired detective Tom Roberts as she sobbed quietly Tuesday afternoon at the announcement of an arrest in her daughter Kathy Taylor’s death 39 years ago.
Earl Leslie Taylor — now age 62, and recently released from prison after serving more than 20 years for killing his second wife — was arrested earlier Tuesday and has been accused of first-degree murder in the April 2, 1975, death of his first wife, Kathy Taylor, who was 23 at the time.
He is scheduled to appear at 9 a.m. today in Vigo Superior Court 1, where he also faces a charge of strangulation, a class-D felony, in the cold case.
Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing said that when Taylor was arrested, he made no statement other than to request an attorney.
Dean and another daughter, Bonnie, traveled to Terre Haute from their hometown of Vincennes to hear Ewing and others talk about Earl Taylor’s arrest.
Kathy Taylor’s mother and sister declined to speak to news media present at the Tuesday afternoon news conference.
But Roberts spoke out about the arrest.
“On my part, it was very, very frustrating,” Roberts said of the homicide case he worked nearly four decades ago. “At the time, back in 1975, yes, it was very frustrating. At the time, I didn’t understand why charges hadn’t been filed.”
Earl Taylor reported the death of his wife at about 4:48 p.m. on April 2, telling investigators that he found her dead in the bathtub of their home in C-Mar Estates. He said that a clock radio that was plugged into a wall outlet had fallen into the bathtub with his wife, who must have taken a bath that morning.
The probable cause affidavit filed Tuesday noted some unusual and inconsistent statements when Earl Taylor spoke to investigators about finding his wife dead because of what he said was electrocution from the clock radio.
During the investigation, detectives noticed that the power cord on the clock radio appeared to have been changed to make it longer, according to a news release from the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department issued Tuesday. “The investigation revealed the factory cord length would not have allowed the radio to fall into the bathtub,” the release states.
Investigators learned weeks prior to Kathy Taylor’s death, Earl Taylor lost his job with a local insurance company, according to the news release. Shortly after losing his job, it was discovered that Earl Taylor had taken out five life insurance policies on Kathy Taylor. She had told insurance company representatives she didn’t know about the policies and reportedly also said she feared her husband was going to kill her, the sheriff’s department release states. Kathy Taylor also reportedly told family and friends Earl Taylor was having an affair and she planned to file for divorce, the release states.
Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt on Tuesday said he also did not know why the prosecution had not been pursued almost 40 years ago. He credited forensic pathologist Dr. Roland Kohr with making a review of the autopsy report and pointing out some facts that indicated homicide rather than the original “undetermined” cause issued by the examining doctor.
Kohr told he Tribune-Star that he looked at the case from a forensic view and saw things that were missed by the original medical examiner, who was not a forensic pathologist.
“There are just factors that do not add up on the review of the case that were not considered at the time,” Kohr said.
Notably, the autopsy report indicated whole kernels of corn and peas were found in Kathy Taylor’s stomach. Because her husband had stated that she died while taking a morning bath, it did not make sense that the woman had undigested dinner food in her stomach, he said.
Kohr said the autopsy also indicated that the woman had fluid in her lungs. However, if she had been electrocuted, her heart would have stopped immediately and she would not have inhaled water into her lungs from the bath.
Detective John Moats said that investigators from the TNT television program “Cold Justice” recently helped review the original notes, affidavits and evidence in the Taylor homicide.
“You get tunnel-visioned at times, looking at these cases over and over, and a fresh set of eyes helps,” Moats said.
The “Cold Justice” team had worked with the sheriff’s department in 2013 to resolve another cold case, the 1998 murder of Erika Case, in which an arrest had not been made. Because of the investigative assistance of the “Cold Justice” team, which includes veteran detectives and prosecutors, an original suspect in the case was arrested and now awaits trial for murder.
Moats said that working on the Taylor case with the same “Cold Justice” crew that helped resolve the Case homicide was a benefit to the new investigation.
Ewing also commended the “Cold Justice” team for bringing extra investigative resources to the case, and he stressed that it was a team effort between the sheriff’s department and the television veterans.
“We have to work as a team to have closure in these cases,” Ewing said.
A production crew from the television show has been filming in Terre Haute in recent weeks, and it captured the arrest of Taylor on Tuesday at the Vigo County Public Library.
Chief Deputy Clark Cottom told the Tribune-Star that it was satisfying to make an arrest in the case because investigators believed Taylor is a dangerous person who could harm others. He was convicted of murder in the 1987 death of his second wife, Mindy, after he reported that she drove her Pontiac Fiero off of Poplar Street into a pond just east of Deming Park. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison, and was released in January 2014.
Investigators learned that Taylor, who had taken out large insurance policies on his second wife, had also taken out a life insurance policy on another woman whom he had been dating while he was married.
Modesitt said that the filing of the murder charge against Earl Taylor was delayed because he had to be charged under the statute that applied at the time of the crime in 1975.
Modesitt said that meant that he had to file the 1975 murder charge against Taylor, but that there were no local copies of the law available. It was late Monday when a copy of the applicable statute was received after research at the Indiana University School of Law at Bloomington.
“It has to be charged correctly as to the law at the time that it happened,” Modesitt said.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.