Body exhumed in 54-year-old cold case investigation

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Jun. 30—Jeff Ray Fox and his sister Kim Davies stood solemnly at the Highland Lawn gravesite of their mother Jo Ann Fox this afternoon.

Her body was exhumed this morning in a renewed police investigation into her June 1967 homicide.

"It's been 54 years," Jeff Fox said on Tuesday in a brief meeting with local media in preparation for the exhumation as part of a cold case investigation. "I'm 67 years old, and it happened when I was 13. And I still think about it."

Following today's exhumation and collection of evidence by forensic pathologist Dr. Roland Kohr, Fox's body was taken to Callahan and Hughes Funeral Home where she was prepared for re-interment at Highland Lawn.

Just after 3 p.m. today, the process was complete.

"We felt very strongly this was a necessary step," Chief Shawn Keen said of the exhumation. "The family supports this decision, and that is important to us."

The case in 1967

Jo Ann Fox was less than two weeks away from her 33rd birthday when she was found dead in a Terre Haute boarding house at 512 N. 6 1/2 St. in the early morning hours of Saturday, June 24, 1967.

She had just rented a room at Manor Apartments on the day before, that Friday, and was staying with a friend who planned to move out and let Fox take over the room.

Fox's roommate found the young woman's body on a bed about 4:30 a.m. Saturday, according to newspaper reports from the time. An autopsy determined Fox had died about 2:30 a.m.

Police found a soda bottle on the bed with her body. Fox had been struck on the head with a blunt object, causing an open head wound, but blunt force trauma was not determined as the cause of death in the case. Police also said Fox had been raped.

Her children — 13-year-old Jeff and 10-year-old Kim — lived with their maternal grandmother in Terre Haute. The children's parents had divorced a few years earlier.

"What I remember is I was at my grandma's house and detectives came," Jeff Fox said. "We were kids, so we were all asked to leave the house. And then afterwards, my grandma told me that mom was dead, and that's about all I can remember."

Fox said he does have good memories of his mother.

They played games. She taught him card tricks. They sat on the porch together. He remembers one time when they were "just wrassling around" and she was tickling him.

"She was a very good person. Definitely, nobody deserves to get murdered. Whatever happened then, she didn't deserve it. Didn't ask for it," he said.

He said he often thinks about his mother. And he felt guilty at times for not being there when she needed help.

He tearfully spoke Tuesday about his mother, his life since her death, and his family's renewed hope that the homicide case will be solved.

He moved away from Terre Haute as an adult, eventually settling in the Indianapolis area. He has stayed in touch with one friend in particular from his teenage years in Terre Haute. His sister now lives in Tennessee.

Fox said they agreed to the exhumation with the hope it will give some closure to the case.

Reviving a cold case

Police have kept the renewed cold case investigation under wraps since it officially reopened in 2018.

In fact, no one currently at the Terre Haute Police Department knew of the unsolved homicide case until a Fox family member contacted police in 2016 or 2017, Keen said Tuesday.

Keen was working on his own cold case investigation into the 1972 homicide of Indiana State University student Pam Milam when he learned of the Fox cold case. Keen said he could find no THPD documentation on the Fox case.

At the time, Milam's unsolved homicide was considered the oldest cold case for the department. Keen went on to solve the 47-year-old Milam case in 2019.

Using DNA and genetic technology, Keen connected Milam's strangulation death to a 23-year-old delivery man who traveled the Midwest and happened to be on the ISU campus where Keen believes he randomly picked Milam as his victim.

The delivery man, Jeffrey Lynn Hand, was later connected to other violent crimes. He died in a 1978 shootout with police in Kokomo following the failed abduction of another woman.

Investigators do not believe Fox's death is connected to Hand.

While working on the Milam case, Keen said he found a box marked "old stuff" in a basement.

"It was almost two years later," Keen said. "I actually found the [Fox] case file just by happenstance when I was working on the other [Milam] case. It was in a random box with old records, so at that point, it was assigned to violent crimes, and specifically to Detective Rumsey."

Renewed Investigation

Brad Rumsey took the three-ring binder with the Fox investigation and began tracking down witnesses.

Police in 1967 interviewed dozens of people in the homicide investigation. Newspaper clippings from the Terre Haute Tribune are part of the documentation in the renewed investigation. A few photos of the scene were also found.

Manor Apartments was in a grand old house that destroyed in a fire a few years later, Rumsey said.

The site where it stood is now part of the ISU campus near the student recreation center. In 1967, Manor Apartments was surrounded by other boarding houses and residential properties.

During his investigation, Rumsey located a person of interest in the who was 22 years old at the time of the homicide. That person has been living in Sarasota, Florida, and Rumsey traveled there to talk to the man.

That man, who is now 76 years old, submitted a DNA sample to Rumsey.

Police also want to re-interview anyone who spoke to police during the original investigation.

The investigators believe DNA evidence is critical to the investigation, but it was not collected at the time of the homicide.

"If you asked someone in 1967 what DNA was, they wouldn't have a clue," Keen said. "So not only do we have DNA now, we have so much with DNA and forensics and genetic genealogy, depending on what we uncover, we have so many new avenues open to us as far as the investigation. That's what we are hoping to do — apply more modern science to this case."

It took more than four months for Rumsey to get the exhumation organized.

He obtained permission from the family, search warrants, permits from the state health department, and scheduled the funeral director, coroner, and pathologist to be on site with the cemetery staff for the exhumation.

The process began about 8 a.m. today.

About 9 a.m., the remains of Jo Ann Fox was carefully placed into a coroner's van to be taken to Terre Haute Regional Hospital for an examination by Dr. Kohr.

About 11:30 a.m., the examination was concluded and her remains were transferred to the funeral home for preparation.

The gravesite was closed just after 3 p.m.

Still questions to answer

Someone has information that will help the investigation, police believe. Fox believes so, too, and he hopes that person will come forward.

"I would say if you know something, please come forward. I've lived all my life without a mom, and that's really hard," he said.

Chief Keen also hopes someone will remember something that helps solve the case.

"Our hope is there may be somebody out there who knows something that is not in the case file. We would very much like to hear from them," Keen said.

Rumsey said tracking down some of the people interviewed 54 years ago has been difficult. Of course, some people have died, and women who were interviewed at the time may have changed their names through marriages or divorces.

Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Rumsey at 812-244-2667 or Sgt. Troy David at 812-244-2218.

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