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Kilgore police searching for answers in years-old cold cases
  • Updated

UPDATE: Since the publication of this article, Det. Sgt. Chitwood has been able to make contact with persons of interest in the case involving human remains discovered in Kilgore on Dec. 23, 2000. KNH thanks all readers who provided KPD with information in this case. This article has been updated because those people have been contacted and public assistance is no longer needed to find their contact information.

Kilgore police are currently working to find more information in two local cold cases.

Each of the two cases involves an unidentified person, and learning more about these individuals may help KPD find answers in each case.

“Of course, we’re always working to prevent current crimes in Kilgore but we are also working on some of these older cases as well,” Police Chief Todd Hunter said.

Det. Sgt. Joey Chitwood, of KPD’s Criminal Investigations Unit, is leading the investigation into the two cases. He said KPD is working with Parabon Nanolabs, a DNA technology company, in an effort to learn more about the unidentified persons in each case.

One case involves the remains of an unidentified woman discovered on Spinks Chapman Road, in the vicinity of Interstate 20, on Dec. 23, 2000. At the time of the discovery, the remains were skeletal and investigators could not determine exactly what the woman looked like while alive.

Analysis of the remains produced some information. A Parabon report showed the woman was of Native American ancestry, and there is a 75 percent chance she is originally from Central America and a 17 percent chance she is originally from South America. The analysis also showed the woman had black hair, brown or dark eyes and light brown skin.

The investigation has not been able to determine the woman’s cause of death or if she was the victim of a crime. Animal tracks and bite marks were found at the scene, a common occurrence when a body remains in a wooded area for a length of time.

Det. Sgt. Chitwood said CeCe Moore, a genetic genealogist with Parabon Nanolabs, is working with KPD on the case and she will soon be taking some of the collected information to DNA Doe Project, an organization which uses genetic genealogy to uncover the identities of unidentified persons in cold cases.

In 2019, the DNA Doe Project played a major role in solving another unidentified person case in Kilgore. Nearly 15 years ago, in October 2006, the remains of an unidentified young woman were discovered on a burning brush pile in Kilgore. She remained unidentified for years, even after a man, Joseph Wayne Burnette, confessed to her murder. In 2018, DNA Doe Project used genetic information and genealogy resources to being the search for her identity. In 2019, they were able to identify the woman as Dana Lynn Dodd. Burnette was later sentenced to 50 years for the crime, as well as 50 years for another murder he committed.

The use of genetic information in conjunction with genealogy resources has become more popular in recent years. In 2018, this technique was used by investigators to identify and arrest Joseph DeAngelo, a former police officer who became a serial killer, rapist and burglar known as the “Golden State Killer.” He terrified Californians with dozens of heinous crimes committed in the 1970s and 1980s.

DNA recovered from one of the Golden State Killer crime scenes was uploaded to a genealogy and genomics website, allowing investigators and genealogists to construct the killer’s “family tree.” From there, they used additional DNA tests and investigations to narrow down the list of possible suspects, until they finally zeroed in on DeAngelo. He has since been sentenced to life in prison for his crimes.

Many of these techniques weren’t available for cases in the past, but the growing popularity of online, digital ancestry databases in recent years has opened up a new kind of investigation.

Similar techniques may be useful in the Kilgore cases, according to Chitwood.

“We try to backtrack from family members,” he said.

“In this case, for example, if we can find a family member through DNA, we can ask them ‘Are you related to anyone who went missing in the year 2000?’ That may lead us to an identification.”

The second cold case being investigated by KPD is related to a murder which occurred in Kilgore on Nov. 2, 1988. On that date, a 65-year-old man named James Thomas Smith was found dead from a gunshot wound to the head in his motor home at 513 Texas 31 West.

According to an article from News Herald archives, Smith was the owner-operator of a local tavern called “The Other Place” and he lived next door to the establishment in a 1966 Dodge motor home.

In addition to the murder, KPD discovered multiple firearms and a passport had been taken from the home. Investigators also recovered a DNA sample from an unidentified female in the residence, and this woman may be a suspect in the case.

Chitwood said one suspect had been excluded by DNA evidence earlier this year and he will send an original DNA swab from the crime scene to Parabon Nanolabs for further analysis.

“They can get a lot more DNA with their scanning techniques. There is a really good chance that we will find some relatives.”


News
Hungarian Home Cooking: Award-winning Texas travel show, "The Daytripper" visits Kilgore restaurant
  • Updated

Brigitta’s Hungarian Restaurant in Kilgore is known for serving up unique dishes which are hard to find elsewhere in the Lone Star State, and their distinctive menu and story have caught the attention of a long-running Texas TV series.

“The Daytripper,” hosted by Chet Garner, paid a visit to Brigitta’s, located at 202 Texas 31 East, on Thursday. The show, which airs on PBS, follows Garner and his crew as they visit towns across Texas to explore the food, culture and stories of folks who live there. The show premiered in 2009 and has won a variety of awards over a dozen seasons.

Mike and Brigitta Gyorfi sat down with Garner Thursday evening to introduce him to their Hungarian specialties, including sausages, cheese, beef and chicken paprikash, stuffed cabbage and sauerkraut.

While filming a segment for “The Daytripper,” the owners told Garner about the secret to good Hungarian cooking: paprika. They order theirs through a specialty supplier, as the good, authentic stuff is nearly impossible to find on American store shelves.

Garner said it was the first time he and his crew had visited a Hungarian restaurant after many seasons on the air and asked the owners if there were many others of its kind in the area.

“We’re the only one!” Mike said with a laugh. He told Garner about a Hungarian family from Maryland who often ordered food from the restaurant, which has handmade, fresh-from-scratch items available frozen for pickup or shipment. The family enjoyed the food so much they stopped by for an in-person visit while traveling in Texas.

In between filming segments, Mike hurried to the kitchen to check on a batch of cabbage lasagna in the oven and to prepare palacsinta, a Hungarian dessert similar to crepes, for customers.

Garner and crew enjoyed the menu at Brigitta’s, with the host saying the sausage was among the best he’d ever had.

Learn more about Garner’s adventures across Texas and watch episodes of “The Daytripper” at https://thedaytripper.com. Learn more about Brigitta’s at www.facebook.com/hungarianrestaurant.


News
Federal arrests made in drug ring targeting East Texas; fugitive wanted
  • Updated

The Texas Department of Public Safety is looking for a fugitive in relation to an “organized prescription drug ring” out of Dallas targeting East Texas, including Rusk and Gregg counties.

Jordan Rose, 28, of Dallas, is accused of directing the drug ring, according to a statement released by DPS spokeswoman Sgt. Jean Dark. After Rose was arrested on charges related to the ring, he posted bond and was released.

“Rose posted bond in Smith County and was taken to Tarrant County, where he was arraigned and released,” the statement said. “However, Rose has outstanding warrants in Bexar County, Louisiana and Florida with bonds totaling more than $3 million. Rose is now a wanted fugitive.”

The investigation began in 2020, according to DPS.

Lindale Police arrested Jesus Granados, 25, of Dallas, on June 15, 2020. According to DPS, police were called to a local pharmacy on suspicion Granados was trying to use a forged prescription to get Promethazine with codeine, a narcotic.

During the investigation, officers found Granados had a forged driver license, which led officers to request assistance from DPS special agents.

In an investigation that lasted more than a year, agents discovered Granados was one of several suspects engaged in an organized prescription drug ring targeting Smith, Gregg, Cherokee, Rusk, Wood and Upshur counties.

“This drug ring had been operating statewide out of Dallas with ties in Louisiana and Florida,” Dark said in a release.

Agents found more than 300 gallons of “fraudulently obtained product” with at least seven compromised doctors’ prescription registration numbers, according to DPS.

On Aug. 26, a Smith County grand jury returned indictments for eight people in the ring. They were each charged with engaging in organized criminal activity and held on $500,000 bond.

Those indicted were:

  • Jordan Rose, 28, of Dallas
  • Michael Conner, 27, of Dallas
  • Jesus Granados, 25, of Dallas
  • Alexander Williamson, 38, of Baltimore, Maryland
  • Teresa Williamson, 34, of Staunton, Virginia
  • Julian Edwards Robinson, III, 23, of Longview, Washington
  • Armesha Jackson, 38, of Mesquite
  • Elisha Hutchinson, 22, of Schertz

Agents determined that Rose “directed the operation of the ring, using food, housing, clothing, phones and drugs to control more 40 people recruited by the other seven suspects who were also indicted,” Dark said.

Anyone with information about Rose is asked to contact DPS Special Agent Richard Brown at (903) 939-6143.


News
kilGORE Horror Movie Festival returns Oct. 25

The spookiest season of the year is upon us, and the third annual kilGORE College Horror Movie Festival returns later this month to keep viewers shaking in fright with a selection of horror movies.

This year’s festival will take place Monday, Oct. 25 through Saturday, Oct. 30 at Dodson Auditorium on the Kilgore College campus.

Voting is open to help choose this year’s festival movies. To vote on what movies will be shown at the festival, visit https://bit.ly/kilGORE.

The poll closes Oct. 15 at midnight.

Here’s how you can get a seat for the scariest film fest in Kilgore:

Students with any valid student ID

1. Single Entry Tickets are $2 or bring a donation for the student food pantry

2. Film Fest Week pass is $10 (for seven films)

Non-Students

1. Single Entry Tickets are $4 or bring a donation for the student food pantry

2. Film Fest Week pass is $20 (for seven films)

Social distancing and masks are encouraged.

A movie will be shown each day at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee set for noon on Saturday.

Keep up-to-date on current poll standings and other information by visiting Dodson Auditorium’s Facebook page.

The final film list will be dependent on securing a final license for each film. If the top film is not able to be licensed, the runner-up will be played instead and so on.


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