crimesider

48 Hours: How a family keepsake helped crack a cold case

By Susan Spencer


Ask average folks how most crimes are solved today and chances are they will conjure up those well known forensic scenes from CSI -- lab workers examining tangles of DNA, guys with lasers marking blood spatter, experts with electron microscopes sorting grains of sand.

But a pair of remarkable cold cases out of Florida recently show that old school still can rule.

SNEAK PEEK: "48 Hours:" Fateful Connection

The cases involve two young women who vanished from Pasco County Florida in 1982. One was Wendy Huggy, a teenager last seen at a mall, and the other was Amy Hurst, reported missing after she failed to call her mother on her birthday.

Later that same year, the body of a young woman was found 27 miles out to sea in the Gulf of Mexico, a concrete block tied around the waist. This was the era before cellphones, before the internet, before all today's high tech crime solving techniques; jurisdictions didn't communicate routinely and no one checked at the time to see if the body might be one of the two missing girls.

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Amy Hurst, left, and Wendy Huggy, right, both disappeared around the same time in 1982.
Photos courtesy Laura Shampine, Patricia Spragg
The cases simply sat - for more than 30 years. Until one of them was cracked thanks in large part to - drumroll, please - an afghan. Not a dog, not a person from Afghanistan, but simply a blanket.

The afghan was wrapped around the body in the Gulf. A very low tech clue, but a very telling one to one specific family.

Through the decades, family members had pieced together similar afghans in a very distinctive way. They were handed down from one generation to the next. Imagine the shock, when decades later, a close relative of one of the missing women happened to see a picture of that afghan, and knew immediately who the victim was.

There were many more factors in solving this crime - a dedicated cold case detective who refused to be discouraged, another cop who literally died trying to identify one of these girls, an astounding confession from the murderer, recorded secretly by his best friend.

And technology did play a role. The afghan was spotted on the internet. Still, it's nice to know that, even in these days of high tech crime solving, it is still sometimes the little things that matter most.

Susan Spencer is a correspondent for "48 Hours." She investigates the 1982 disappearances of Wendy Huggy and Amy Hurst Saturday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.


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