Search for killer, and motive, in unsolved 2008 slaying

Erin Moriarty is a “48 Hours” correspondent. She investigated a Georgia woman’s unsolved 2008 murder for the episode, “Who killed Kay Wenal?” The investigation airs Saturday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

Listen up, armchair detectives: Fire up your imagination and deductive reasoning skills to help solve a cold murder case that has stumped detectives in suburban Atlanta. This week’s “48 Hours” focuses on a murder mystery that proves, once again, that high-tech forensic tools can only go so far in bringing a killer to justice. What these investigators need is a good solid tip that ties the brutal murder of a beautiful woman to her brazen, vicious killer or killers.

The victim was Kay Wenal, a 60-year-old Gwinnett County woman who, by most accounts, was charming, talented and beloved. Yet, on the afternoon of May 1, 2008, someone came into her home while she was reading, punched her in the face, chased her into the kitchen and slashed her throat, twice. The killer managed to escape without leaving any fingerprints, hairs or fibers. Caught by surprise, Kay never had a chance to fight back.

The killer, who appeared to be familiar with the layout of the home, took time to go upstairs where, strangely, a towel was found with traces of Kay’s blood. Yet, no jewelry or valuables were missing.

In a case like this, the first suspect is usually the spouse. Kay’s husband, Hal, is the one who found her, in a pool of blood, when he arrived home from work that evening. Investigators looked hard at Hal Wenal, a wealthy real estate developer, but were unable to uncover any obvious motive. Neither Wenal, both with previous marriages, appeared to be involved in extramarital affairs.  What’s more, Hal Wenal seemed as determined as the police to find his wife’s killers.  Wenal offered a $250,000 reward and hired a team of private detectives, including former FBI agents Ned Timmons, Kathleen Timmons and John Insogna.

While no longer on the case, “We (still) want this guy. We want this solved,” Ned Timmons said recently. 

Timmons believes that the person who wielded the knife was likely a man.

“Because of the strength it took…I don’t see a woman cutting another woman’s throat like that. I don’t,” Timmons said.

A man was seen in the neighborhood both on the day before the murder and the afternoon of Kay Wenal’s death, but despite wide circulation of a sketch of the stranger, investigators have never been able to put a name to his face.   

Investigators believe Kay Wenal’s killer is likely a right-handed male, but he may have had help. Nearly three months after the murder, there was a new development in the case. A peculiar letter arrived at the Gwinnett County offices of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

The letter, postmarked July 21st, 2008 in Augusta, Georgia, contained letters and words cut out of newspapers and magazines.  It begins with this line: “I bet Kay Wenal never told anyone what she really was. It turns out she was just a $ grubbing [expletive]…” and goes on as if written by a scorned lover taking credit for the murder. 

Some investigators who worked on the case over the years believe the letter was written by the killer. However, when we took a copy of the letter to a former FBI profiler, she posited a different theory.

Mary Ellen O’Toole, who now heads the Forensic Science Program at George Mason University in Virginia, doubts that the letter was written by an obsessed stalker. Instead, she says that most “cut and paste” letters are the work of women. She now wonders if the letter was created by a woman who was trying to aid the killer by throwing investigators off the trail. If Ms. O’Toole is correct, then two or more people were involved in Kay Wenal’s death.

The “48 Hours” report includes most of the clues that investigators have collected, including the type of weapon and details about the assailant, but the case remains unsolved, with a vicious killer or killers still on the loose. With all the clues investigators do have, what they still need most is a motive. Who went to so much trouble to kill Kay Wenal, a woman with seemingly no enemies, and got away with her brutal murder?  

Someone out there knows that answer. The question is, will he or she be brave enough to come forward to see justice done?   

  • Erin Moriarty

    Correspondent, "48 Hours"