Criminal investigator Clay Bryant goes after leads like a dog goes after a bone. "I've tried other things in my life and haven't been happy," says Bryant, 50. "I couldn't think of doing anything else."
He has a law degree, years of police experience, and a new nickname: Cold Case Clay, a joking reference to his success in helping the district attorney in La Grange, Ga., solve cases long forgotten.
"I found a tremendous amount of satisfaction to right a long-standing wrong," adds Bryant, who says that he was born into the job. "I was raised on the front seat of a police car by probably the best criminal investigator there was, my father."
Bryant's father, Buddy, was the police chief of Hogansville, a tiny town nearby, and Clay idolized him. As a 15-year-old, he says he had the most fun going out with his dad on police calls.
"Every waking moment I wasn't having to cut grass or do some of the things I had to do, I spent right behind my daddy," recalls Bryant, which is exactly where he was on a hot August morning in 1970, when his father responded to a call from the sheriff's department.
A child had spotted a woman's body at the bottom of an abandoned well. "I'll never forget. It was awful. It was macabre, the poor woman spinning around on that cable," says Bryant, of an image that has haunted him for 34 years "It was surreal. It was so removed from what life ought to be."
Her name was Gwendolyn Moore and she had been missing since the night before. She was married at 15, had four kids, and was dead at 30.
"She was just really a beautiful person, easy-going, sweet," says Pat Terry, Gwendolyn's sister. "She was willing to do anything to help anyone."
"I had probably the most wonderful mother in the world," adds Gwendolyn's oldest son, Allen Moore.
But Gwendolyn's smile hid a lifetime of abuse.
"I've been spanked with everything, from a hose pipe to a chain to a tree limb, belts," recalls Allen Moore, who says his father also abused his mother. "I remember a lot of times, you know, I'd wake up because we'd hear the beatings going on at night. And we'd just fall asleep crying."
Terry says her sister tried to leave her husband, but he would always find her: "He threatened to kill the children if she didn't come back with him."
Gwendolyn often hid in a crawl space under a neighbor's house. That's where Allen says he last saw his mother, in the dark: "Her left eye was swollen shut. And she could barely see out of her right eye and you can tell she was in a lot of pain."
"She said she was leaving," says Allen. "She told me that she loved us very much, that she'd be back to get us. And I left her there."
Her body was found the next day. Allen says he thought his father was responsible for his mother's death.
Suspicion immediately fell on Gwendolyn's husband, Marshall, who admitted he'd hit her the day before. He was interviewed by police, and passed a lie detector test. Bryant says Moore also knew some important people in town: "For whatever reason, somebody did not want to solve this case. It was just a tragic ending to a tragic existence."
No one ever was charged and Bryant's dad was helpless to do anything, because the well was just over the city line – out of his jurisdiction.
Years passed, but Bryant never forgot his father's frustration: "My daddy had some very strong feelings about this case. I heard him talk about it all the way up to his death. This is one of those injustices that he never got over."
Marshall Moore, meanwhile, remarried within a few months of Gwendolyn's death, and continued to live in the same house. And this is where things stood in 2002, when Bryant got a remarkable phone call from a local sheriff's deputy.
It was a call that would give him a chance to do what his father had been unable to do – find justice for Gwendolyn Moore.
Bryant, the father of two, will never forget the day the Gwendolyn Moore case came back into his life.
Remarkably, it was his father's birthday. And none of it would have happened without Leslie Ianuzzie, a distant relative of Gwendolyn's. It all started after she found a photo of a woman she didn't recognize in a family album: her great aunt, Gwendolyn. Ianuzzie's mother, Millie, explained who Gwendolyn was, and talked about her tragic end.
"I saw something in her face when she saw Gwen's picture," recalls Millie. "That I knew she was gonna pursue that."
Not everyone in the family was happy about it, including Gwendolyn's sister. But Ianuzzie says she wanted answers, so she combed the Internet looking for obituaries, called sheriff's departments and checked out the local county archive. Finally, she found Gwendolyn's death certificate at Atlanta's Hall of Vital Records.
"Once I got the death certificate, that was the best part, for me," says Ianuzzie. "It has the little boxes whether it was a homicide or accident, and it was marked as a homicide."
But she says that she wasn't able to get the police report: "No one could ever give me one."