A 20-Year Nightmare Ends
In December 1978, someone walked into the Huling's secluded home in Saint Cloud, Minn., and shot and killed his mother and three siblings.
Huling says he heard footsteps entering his bedroom, and then a shot. "It went right next to my head. I had my arms right over my head," he says. "Didn't hit me or anything, and as the person poked me, I think I probably breathed a little bit and moved."
The killer fired a second time, but somehow missed again. "I guess I didn't move that time, cause then footsteps started walking away," recalls Huling, who ran nearly two miles to get help after the killer left.
Jim Kostreba was the first officer on the scene. "As you go from room to room and find the bodies of these children laying in their beds, dead, it really affects you emotionally," recalls Kostreba. "It's something that you never forget."
There were plenty of suspects, but no one was charged with the murders. Huling, now 32, might have spent the rest of his life haunted by this mystery -- if not for a determined band of detectives. Correspondent Erin Moriarty reports on this 48 Hours Mystery.
While investigating another unsolved homicide, detectives stumbled across a link between that case and the Huling family murders. It was 1996 when detectives reopened the case of 18-year-old Marlys Wohlenhaus – and 48 Hours was there to report on the murder.
At that time, there didn't appear to be any link between Wohlenhaus' murder and the Huling family shootings – which occurred five months earlier and 150 miles apart.
Wohlenhaus was struck on the back of the head. "An hour later, mother finds her child, head smashed in, mother calls for assistance," recalls Everett Doolittle, who heads Minnesota's Cold Case Unit, a division of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. "She's taken to the hospital and pronounced dead two days later."
There was a list of nearly a dozen murder suspects in the Wohlenhaus murder, but over the last 17 years, there wasn't enough evidence to indict or eliminate any of them.
One of the suspects was a neighbor, Tom Cartony, who was just a teenager when Wohlenhaus was murdered. Although Cartony has never been charged, the ordeal has taken its toll. "So many people to this day still feel I had some involvement in it," he says.
Another suspect, Joe Ture, was already in prison for the brutal murder of a young girl, Diane Edwards. Ture, a drifter, allegedly confessed to a cellmate three years after the murder that he killed Wohlenhaus. He also confessed to the Huling family murders.
Police had confession letters signed by Ture, but even with these confessions, Ture wasn't charged with murdering Wohlenhaus or the Hulings. In fact, the only person who says Ture confessed was his cellmate, who asked 48 Hours to conceal his identity.
Ture denied dictating the confession letters and quickly changed his story. He also said that he had an alibi – his job with Ford Motors – on the day of Wohlenhaus' murder. This is what investigators believed for almost 20 years, until they decided to check out his alibi. They discovered that there was a Joe Ture at work that day – but it was Ture's father, who had the same name.
Ture then became the chief suspect in the Wohlenhaus and Huling family murders. When 48 Hours first aired this story in 1996, investigators still didn't have enough to convict Ture. This drastically changed, however, when a viewer saw that broadcast.
Ture denies murdering Wohlenhaus in 1979, but he admitted in a 1996 interview with 48 Hours that he would track down someone he wanted to meet through their automobile license tags.
That night, one viewer, Lavonne, was watching 48 Hours. "As we were watching it, I started shaking and I said, 'Oh my God, I think that's my guy," recalls Lavonne, who along with dozens of other women, recognized Ture as the man who attacked her.
Doolittle received numerous responses from viewers, and 48 Hours spoke with three of them, Lavonne, Nancy and Sheryl, all waitresses who knew Ture.
According to Lavonne, Ture was her last customer in 1974 before she was attacked: "He was on top of me and I was realizing that nobody was gonna save me and that I had to get away from him."
Five years later, Ture forced Nancy, also a waitress at the time, into the back of his van. "I just started screaming and trying to fight him," recalls Nancy, who stopped fighting, in a move that may have saved her life. "He just immediately stopped and he looked at me and he got up."
At the time, both women say police urged them to forget about the incidents. Then, in 1980, another waitress, 19-year-old Diane Edwards was attacked and killed. And just weeks after that, another waitress, Sheryl, said she was attacked by Ture, who also try to force her into the back of his van.
"I started screaming and that's when he started smashing my head up against the side of the window," says Sheryl, who was raped by Ture and forced to perform oral sex before being released.
In Sheryl's case, Ture was charged with rape, but he never went to trial. "They had already by this time gotten the Diane Edwards thing pinned on him," recalls Sheryl. "So at the time, they figured, we'll have this guy locked up forever. So rather than putting you through the emotional trauma of another trial -- so I said that's fine."
Many of the assaults, however, might have been prevented before any of these women were attacked.
Why? Police had stopped Ture in a stolen car and discovered hundreds of names, license tags and telephone numbers of women in the car. But it wasn't enough to hold him, so Ture was released. He was free until 1981, when he was finally charged and convicted of the murder of Edwards, one of the women he had targeted.
The women who came forward convinced Doolittle that Ture killed Wohlenhaus, also a waitress. But he still didn't have enough to convince a jury, until another witness came forward after watching 48 Hours.
"The word, 'Then I killed her' ring in my ears today," recalls Dave Hofstad, who was an investigator on the Edwards case.
Hofstad called Doolittle because he says he can never forget what Ture told him back in 1981. Acting on a hunch that Ture might be behind Wohlenhaus' murder, Hofstad asked Ture if he knew her.
"He said that she worked at a restaurant, that he knew her, and he wanted to date her," says Hofstad. "He said that he had gone to her home and wanted to talk to her. He was in the house and he was waiting for her when she came home, and they argued and then his statement was 'I killed her.'"
Hofstad was largely ignored, as detectives focused on another suspect. But when he called Doolittle 15 years later, his testimony was just what Doolittle needed to back up the confession letters he already had from Ture.
Almost 20 years after Wohlenhaus' death, Ture was charged and convicted of her murder. Doolittle was left with one more mystery to solve – one that could finally eliminate Ture's chances for parole. Could he prove that Ture also killed the Hulings?
When police found the names and addresses of women in Ture's car – right after the Huling murders – they also found a ski mask, a club wrapped in leather that had little circles in it, and a little toy Batmobile car.
What was a toy car doing in Ture's vehicle? Ture told investigators the car belonged to his granddaughter, even though he was only 27 at the time he was questioned.
Doolittle asked Billy Huling what the detectives 20 years ago had failed to do. He asked Huling if it was his car. "And his answer was, 'Why, did you find my Batmobile,'" recalls Doolittle. "He said the last time he saw it was on his kitchen table the night of the murder."
Not only had investigators failed to ask Huling about his toy car, they never bothered to show him Ture's 1981 confession to the murders, which included many details that could only have been known by the killer.
After the murders, Huling spent the next few years under the care of psychologists and social workers, while living in a foster home. "Basically, I think that's what helped the most – talking about it," says Huling.
Almost 22 years later, Ture stands trial for the murder of Huling's family.
"I still have feelings of anger, madness, disappointment that it took so long, but I'm just glad the day has come to put an end to all this, and hopefully we can get the conviction," says Huling
Now a first class petty officer in the Navy, Huling is about to testify against the man he believes killed his mother, his brother and two sisters.
What matters now is what the jurors think, after Huling takes the stand. "It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be," says Huling. "I didn't think it was going to bother me as much as it did."
The jury finds Ture guilty of killing Huling's family, and he is sentenced to four consecutive life sentences.
Finally, Huling can move on with his life. "I chose to go on with my life, move on with my life and do the best I can do with what basically God gave me -- another chance," says Huling.
This past June, Joe Ture lost his last chance to appeal for a new trial in any of these murders.
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