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Video: Cracking cold cases

TODAY contributor
updated 6/19/2008 9:45:25 AM ET 2008-06-19T13:45:25

TV would have us believe that "high-tech" catches criminals, but only about a third of the cases get solved with DNA evidence. The rest rely on detectives who can connect the seemingly unconnected.

Albuquerque Sheriff Darren White looks up as big bear of man shambles into his office.

"Hey, Bill."

"Hey, Boss."

"What do you know?"

"Nothing, and I can prove it." 

Bill Peters handles cold cases in the Albuquerque Sheriff's Office; the ones fading away on microfilm.

"To say he's old-school is an understatement,” chuckles Sheriff White.

Bill was one of the FBI's first profilers, studied physics in the Air Force during the Korean War. Planned to be a scientist, until he caught himself daydreaming about his part-time job as a cop while listening to a college professor.

"He's up there lecturing up a storm. And I'm thinking, 'How am I gonna get Jimmy McBride. He just got us for another safe last night!' " 

For 50 years Bill's been chasing bad guys all around the globe.  

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"There are times when age helps," Bill points out.

In his 70s he solved three murders no one else could.

"I just don't like the idea of walking away from 'em until I got the guy in the slammer!" 

That's why Sheriff Darren White coaxed Bill to postpone retirement. The sheriff knows a victim's pain first-hand.

"My grandfather was murdered many, many years ago," says the sheriff. "And my father — until the day he died — he could not talk about it." 

Because the murder remained a mystery.

In the next room, Bill Peters is rummaging through piles of files. His desk looks like a board game that ended angrily.

"Here it is, I knew I had it!" 

Solving a mystery with a caring set of eyes
Bill pulls out an aging mug shot. He cracked his first cold case in seven months, one that had puzzled investigators for 13 years.

Kathryn Dockweiller's body was found in a remote shallow grave. Bound, gagged, strangled and raped. Thunderstorms had washed away all the other clues. Bill solved the mystery with old-fashioned police work. Traveled to Texas to talk to someone other investigators had dismissed, a suspect's former wife.

"Out of the clear blue sky, she laid out what I needed."

Said she'd found a day planner in her husband's van with Dockweiller's name on it.  

"We got enough 'probable cause' to get the suspect's DNA," Bill says.

It matched DNA recovered from Kathryn's body and put a drifter, John Green, behind bars.

Kathryn’s husband sits, staring at their wedding photo.

"Your wife's case was just gathering dust for 13 years," I say, "until the right set of eyes looked at it."

Chris Dockweiller looks up. 

"A caring set of eyes!" he says intensely.

Kathryn disappeared two days before their fifth wedding anniversary. This May would have been their 25th.  

"It's just like yesterday to me," Chris says.

"Did you ever remarry?"

"No. She's all I can think of." 

Kathryn was a lawyer who loved the outdoors. Just 29, the last day he saw her.

"I just bent over the bed and kissed her. And I got her right here." Chris touches his chin. "My last kiss was in a hurry. I never missed her lips before."

Bill Peters walks with Chris to Kathryn’s grave. Bill leans down to read the inscription.

"1988. That's 20 years ago."

"This month." 

Now Chris knows the end of the story.

When Bill Peters tells the rest of the family, he watches Kathryn's father.

"A little trickle of a tear comes out of his eye. And he said, 'OK.' And I said, 'If you need me for anything, holler.' And I walked out and picked up another case." 

Bill Peters has spent his retirement finding final chapters to real-life mysteries — offering answers when hope is gone.

Want to contact the subjects in this morning's American Story with Bob Dotson? Here's their contact information:

Bill Peters
Bernalillo County Sheriff's department  
Cold Case Squad
400 Roma Street, NW
Albuquerque, NM 87102
Telephone: (505) 768-4100

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