Cold Case Files – Times Publications, June 2011
By Shanna Hogan
Dusty evidence boxes filled with old reports and faded photos clutter the storage shelves inside evidence lockers at just about every police agency across Arizona.
They are the cold case files—confounding crimes and complex murder mysteries that have gone unsolved for years, and in many cases, for decades.
Each file tells the story of a murder victim whose life was ended by an unknown killer. Also buried along with each report are the untold stories of the victims’ loved ones, whose grief lingers as the crimes go unsolved.
In the past 20 years 9,827 Arizona residents have been the victim of a homicide or manslaughter, according to statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. About 3,791, or nearly 40 percent, of those cases remain unsolved.
While cold case detectives at each police agency actively pursue new leads, with the passing of time the investigations become increasingly difficult to solve. Recent murders take precedent over old homicides; new leads become forgotten stories.
The lack of closure leaves friends and family with a yearning for answers. Following are the stories behind some of Arizona’s most notorious unsolved murders and the victims’ families still waiting for justice.
Jennifer Lueth and Diana Shawcroft
Murdered: August 24, 1996
Location: Desert area 100 miles north of Phoenix
The moment Deb Lueth picked up the phone she knew something dreadful had happened to her 19-year-old daughter, Jennifer. On the other end of the line was Jennifer’s roommate with some horrifying news: Jennifer Lueth and her childhood friend, Diana Shawcroft, were missing.
It was Memorial Day 1996. Three days earlier, Jennifer and Diana had left their Glendale apartment to walk to a mini-mart near the intersection of 59th Avenue and Camelback Road. They never returned.
It was the beginning of a nightmare still being lived by Bob and Deb Lueth 15 years later.
“We knew immediately when her roommate called that this was not good, that this was really, really bad,” says Deb. “Jenni never took off like that and didn’t contact us. It just wasn’t her.”
Almost immediately, a terrible thought began to creep into the back of Deb’s mind: someone had stolen her daughter.
This was exactly the sort of thing Bob and Deb had feared when Jennifer left her hometown in Colorado and moved to Glendale. Jennifer’s parents didn’t want her to go; they were terrified of her being so far away.
“You never want to see your kid go away, but she was 19 and she went down there strictly for her friend who she felt was in trouble,” says Bob. “Jennifer was the type when someone was in need, she was there to help.”
Diana’s parents were going through a difficult divorce, and Jennifer wanted to be close to support her friend. She moved into a Glendale apartment with Diana, 20, and another roommate. Jennifer got a job at Discover Card through a staffing agency, while Diana worked at a local Burger King. Although Jennifer was a thousand miles away, the Lueths spoke to their daughter nearly every day.
Then Bob and Deb got the call that would change their lives forever. They headed to Glendale to search for their daughter and for the next three months lived out of a Phoenix hotel room. They ate little and barely slept, spending their days hanging up flyers, knocking on doors and meeting with detectives.
The police investigation determined that Jennifer and Diana had arrived at the Glendale mini-mart around 7 p.m., where the cashier said they purchased cigarettes and a soda. For two hours they sat outside the store when suddenly a man pulled up in a faded ‘80s Chevy truck with tinted windows. The girls got inside the truck and were never seen alive again.
Police searched for the man and combed the surrounding desert. While the Lueths held out hope, as time passed they realized the increasing possibility that their daughter would not be found alive.
Then in August 1996, the Lueths’ worst fears were confirmed. Two men were hunting in a remote desert area 100 miles north of Phoenix, when they stumbled upon skeletal remains. Jennifer and Diana had been dumped over a ledge in southern Yavapai County, roughly 20 miles east of Interstate 17. Their badly decomposed bodies had to be identified through dental records.
“I think the worst part, truly, was when it really sank in that this is really real, she is really not coming back,” says Deb. “The only thing that has caused our survival through this was the return of our daughter’s remains. Some people never know and never find their lost loved ones.”
Fifteen years later, the search for the killer continues. Today, the mini-mart no longer exists, and the intersection where the girls were last seen alive bears little resemblance to how it appeared in 1996. For the Lueths, their daughter’s memory remains alive in their hearts, and they say they remain hopeful that Jennifer and Diana’s killer will one day be brought to justice.
“It was just so devastating for us, and we miss her so,” says Deb. “Our biggest worry is that these girls would be forgotten and nobody will continue to look for whoever did this and that person will do this to somebody else’s daughter.”
Antony “Tony” Maplethorpe
Murdered: August 22, 2007
Location: Central Street and Dobbins Road, Phoenix
On the morning of August 21, 2007, Tony Maplethorpe got behind the wheel of his green 2007 Jeep Wrangler and headed for Tucson. It was going to be a busy week for Tony—he and his business partner were set to open a new pizzeria, an offshoot of Mamma Mia Brick Oven Pizza in Phoenix. After years of working as a deliveryman and catering manager, Tony was finally going to be a business owner.
“He was really excited,” says Frank Grassi, Tony’s best friend and business partner. “That was our first business venture together. But he never actually got a chance to see it open.”
Tony, 33, arrived in Tucson to pick up a pizza oven, loading it on a flatbed trailer he was towing behind his Jeep. That afternoon Tony and Frank spent several hours installing the pizza oven at the eatery at 8th Street and Indian School Road in Phoenix. As they toiled away, they discussed final preparations necessary for the business. The next morning the phone lines were being installed at the restaurant, and Frank told Tony he needed to be at the eatery early. After work Tony went home and spent his final hours text messaging friends.
He was never seen alive again.
At first Frank was not concerned when Tony failed to show up the next morning at the pizzeria as planned.
“It was nothing out of the ordinary for Tony to be a little bit late. He was kind of a late sleeper, and I was trying to break him of that habit because we were going into the restaurant business,” says Frank. “But I went over to his house because I was pissed. We just had the talk the night before about how we needed to get up early, and he wasn’t there, which was strange. Later on we found out what happened.”
Shortly before noon on August 22, days before the scheduled opening of the pizzeria, Tony’s badly beaten body was discovered in an alley near Central Street and Dobbins Road in south Phoenix.
He had been bludgeoned to death, and the medical examiner listed the cause of death as “blunt force trauma.”
“It’s still so surreal that it happened,” Frank says. “He was the last person in the world that anyone would target for anything like that. He was the most fun-loving person you could ever imagine. He was the guy who was just always making sure everyone was smiling.”
Police believe Tony was possibly murdered at his Phoenix home, near 44th Street and Thomas Road, and transported to the alley where his body was found. His body may have been transported using the flatbed trailer on his Jeep which he had previously used to tow the pizza oven.
Four years after the savage murder, Tony’s friends and family say the loss is still unbearable. As a tribute to his friend, Frank re-named the pizzeria he and Tony were opening, calling it Tony’s Mamma Mia Express. Out of the pizzeria he regularly passes out fliers about the case, in an effort to help catch the killer.
“It’s more about the closure,” says Frank. “I would just like to know why.”
Lisa Gurrieri and Brandon Rumbaugh
Murdered: October 18, 2003
Location: Camping spot near Bumble Bee, Yavapai County
Lisa Gurrieri was 19 and very much in love. She had been dating her 20-year-old boyfriend, Brandon Rumbaugh, for just a year, but already the couple was discussing marriage.
For their one-year anniversary, Lisa wanted to spend a romantic night sleeping under the stars. She borrowed her mom’s white Ford pickup truck, and she and Brandon packed it with sleeping bags and camping supplies.
On October 18, 2003, the couple parked the truck at a remote desert camping spot near Bumble Bee, one hour north of Scottsdale. Unfolding their sleeping bags in the back of the truck bed, the couple tucked in for the night, reminiscing about their relationship.
From the moment Brandon and Lisa first locked eyes at a Scottsdale nightclub in 2002, they had been inseparable. Young and attractive, they appeared to be a perfect couple with a bright future. Brandon was an Arizona State University student and a member of the Marine Reserves who worked as a personal trainer at a Mesa gym. Lisa was a gorgeous Mesa Community College student who sang in her church choir and who dreamed of becoming a wedding planner.
“She was beautiful, both inside and out. She had a fantastic personality,” says Lisa’s mom, Paula Gurrieri. “Brandon was a great kid. He treated her like a queen. He was just wonderful to her.”
The day following the camping trip, Paula expected Brandon and Lisa to return early in the morning. But as the hours passed, Paula sensed something was wrong. She called police and within hours a search was underway.
A friend of Brandon’s, who was familiar with the area, drove to the campsite and ultimately located the truck. What he found inside was horrifying. Brandon and Lisa were dead—still lying in the back of the truck tucked in their sleeping bags. Both had suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the head.
“Even after they said they had found them, I still couldn’t believe it was them until I saw my truck, and then I knew,” says Paula. “She was just a great person. She didn’t have any enemies. She didn’t dislike anybody. She loved everybody.”
The motive for the murder remains unknown and homicide detectives remain baffled by the circumstances of the case. While there were money and valuables in the truck, nothing was taken, and neither victim had been assaulted. Police have theorized that the double murder may have been a random act of violence.
For the loved ones of Lisa and Brandon, their senseless loss is still difficult to comprehend. Sarah Clemans, one of Lisa’s best friends and former classmates, says she thinks about Lisa nearly every day.
“She was genuinely just a very good person,” says Sarah. “That’s what makes it so hard that she died such a gruesome murder, and we have no idea why, and we have no idea who this person is.”
Murdered: June 21, 2007
Location: McDowell Road and 27th Avenue, Phoenix
At the age of 55 and president of a real-estate development company, Ed Forst’s life seemed complete. The successful father of three had recently walked one daughter down the aisle and was anticipating the birth of his second grandchild.
Then at 1:30 a.m. on June 21, 2007, Ed was driving his SUV along McDowell Road, near 27th Avenue, when he was fatally shot by unknown assailants. Ed’s vehicle careened off the road, crashing into a nearby convenience store. Two unidentified men and a woman fled the scene.
Four years later, the motive for killing remains a mystery. Theories have included a carjacking, robbery gone wrong or a random drive-by shooting.
Ed Forst’s family is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrests of the people responsible for his death.
Debra Sue Murray
Murdered: June 26, 1998
Location: 700 block of West Shawnee Drive, Chandler
Shortly after dawn on June 26, 1998, Debra Sue Murray left for her job at the local Jack in the Box, where she worked as a manager. As she stepped out the front door she was ambushed, shot multiple times in her upper body.
Debra, a mother of a 12-year-old son, died on her front lawn of her quaint Chandler home.
Debra’s garage had been broken into and her possessions were strewn across the driveway. Investigators, however, later determined that the garage burglary had been staged, possibly to cover-up the true motive for the murder. A fresh foot impression discovered in the front yard led investigators to suspect Debra’s husband; however, the evidence later proved inconclusive.
No one has ever been arrested in connection with Debra Sue Murray’s death, and 13 years later the case remains unsolved.
Murdered: March 20, 1981
Location: Corona del Sol High School, 1001 E. Knox Rd., Tempe
On a rainy March morning in 1981, a groundskeeper at Corona del Sol High School discovered the body Gretchen White in the school’s parking lot.
The 23-year-old Arizona State University senior had been strangled, raped and run over by her own brown and blue Mercury vehicle.
Police believe Gretchen knew her killer, and that it may have been an ex-boyfriend. Three decades later, the identity of the murderer is still unknown.
Murdered: July 2, 2003
Location: 1000 block of East Carmen St., Tempe
For 30 years Patrick Servino had lived a quiet life in the upscale Tempe patio home where he raised his two children. The 54-year-old retiree had worked as an executive at Salt River Project for 25 years and was an active member of his church.
Then, on the evening of July 2, 2003, he opened his front door and was shot twice at close range. Moments later, his body was discovered by his former mother-in-law in the foyer.
In the months leading up to his murder Patrick had been receiving strange letters and an unknown suspect had painted graffiti on his house. Leads have since dried up, and today the killer remains at large.
Murdered: November 8, 1992
Location: Cactus Road and Interstate 17, Phoenix
It was November 8, 1992—Angela Brosso’s 22nd birthday. At about 7 p.m. that evening, the DeVry Institute of Technology graduate left the apartment she shared with her boyfriend for a bike ride. She was never seen alive again.
Angela’s headless body was discovered in a small park at 25th Avenue and Cactus Road in Phoenix. Eleven days later, her head was found in a stretch of the Arizona Canal, about two miles south of where her body had been located.
Angela’s purple 21-speed Diamondback bike was missing and has never been recovered.
The slaying remains one of the Valley’s most gruesome unsolved killings.
Murdered: September 22, 1993
Location: The Black Canyon Freeway, north of Dunlap Avenue, Phoenix
Less than a year after the savage slaying of Angela Brosso, another pretty, young bicyclist was murdered.
On September 22, 1993, Melanie Bernas, a 17-year-old Arcadia High School student, disappeared while riding her bicycle along the Arizona Canal. Her body was later found floating in the canal, about two miles south of where Angela Brosso’s remains had been discovered. Melanie’s bicycle, a green SPC Hardrock Sport mountain bike, was also missing.
Although Melanie’s body had not been mutilated, police suspected the slayings were connected. Biological evidence on the bodies later linked the two murders. Although the killer’s DNA profile has been registered in a nationwide database since 1994, no match has ever been uncovered.
Murdered: August 26, 1978
Location: Sunburst Hotel, 4925 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
In the summer of 1978, Brooklyn resident Ken Avvenire came to Arizona for a job interview at a Phoenix printing company. On the night of August 26, he checked into Room 207 at the Sunburst Hotel in Scottsdale.
On the following afternoon two hotel maids made a ghastly discovery. Avvenire, 25, had been stabbed in the chest 17 times with a ballpoint pen, and his head had been bashed in with a lamp.
Guests in adjoining rooms at the hotel did not report hearing any disturbance. A couple had been seen earlier that night with Ken at a Phoenix lounge, and they were also staying at the hotel. Their room was just down the hall, and a speck of blood was later found in that room.
Scottsdale homicide detective Hugh Lockerby says the police believe they know the identify of Ken Avvenire’s killer but don’t yet have enough evidence for an indictment.
“People who commit these crimes will not be able to walk free in our community,” says Scottsdale homicide detective Hugh Lockerby. “They will be sought, they will be tracked down and they will be brought to justice.”
When a murder is committed, the first 72 hours following the slaying are the most critical in identifying the killer, police say. After 72 hours, the odds of solving the case decrease significantly.
After a case goes cold, it sometimes takes new evidence to reignite the investigation and to ultimately track down the killer. Often that information comes in the form of fresh leads from the public. Arizona’s Silent Witness program, which provides the public with an anonymous means of providing information pertaining to criminal investigations, has been vital to unlocking many baffling murder mysteries throughout the years.
Over the past 30 years, Silent Witness has paid out nearly $2 million in reward money to anonymous callers who provided information that led to the arrest of more than 6,000 felons.
“The Silent Witness program is paramount to our investigations,” says Lockerby. “In some cases people don’t feel free enough to call. It’s a lot more convenient to supply information to an anonymous source.”
Anyone with information on the cold cases profiled in this story or any criminal investigations in the state is urged to make an anonymous tip to Silent Witness at 480-WITNESS or www.silentwitness.org.