Terre Haute News
Indiana Central News
Terre Haute, Indiana
Terre Haute, Indiana
By Lucy Perry
Indiana Central News
Nearly 50 years ago, a local man discovered his 19-year-old daughter dead inside the trunk of her vehicle at a campus parking lot where she attended college in Terre Haute.
Now that Terre Haute Police Chief Shawn Keen announced a major break in the cold case this week -- following his own decade-long investigation into the death of Pamela Milam, he hopes the family of the victim might finally get the closure they have long sought after.
DNA and other modern methods ultimately identified a very likely suspect, although now- deceased, Jeffrey Lynn Hand, of southern Indiana. His work had brought him through Terre Haute at the the time of the murder.
Once Keen took on the case, the challenge kept the tenacious officer's curiosity and held his interest. He used a combination of old- fashioned police work and up-to-date expertise that resulted in the unsolved 1972 investigation finally being put to rest.
The case was finally able to move forward with major advances in forensic science made since the early 1970s, and specialists capable of analyzing samples of evidence provided by Keen from the incident.
Those advances brought years of investigation right to the sole suspect, Hand. Something not possible when the case was started.
"They did a really good job at that time of processing that scene, of both trace evidence and soil samples. But, again, this is 1972 and forensics were not what they were today," Keen said, explaining that more precise testing available now narrowed down details of the homicide suspect to genetics, including hair, eye and skin color.
Keen was impressed that a computerized composite was provided showing what the suspect might actually look like based on his DNA profile with genetic genealogy.
"I was skeptical, until I see this," he said, showing the lab- provided image next to Hand's image --- bearing a striking resemblance. "The whole case starts coming together. It's just unbelievable that this is even possible."
Meanwhile, following a recent meeting with Chief Deputy Rob Roberts, of the Vigo County Prosecutor's Office, Keen reports that the new evidence presented in the case supports charges for Hand. In fact, an arrest warrant would be issued if he were alive today. He speculates that Hand could possibly have committed other similar crimes that have gone unsolved.
The investigation clears the names of other possible suspects in the homicide.
Officials would report, back then, that Milam was found bound and gagged in the trunk of her Pontiac LeMans. She had been strangled to death the previous night.
Milam, an Indiana State University sophomore, was last seen alive Sept. 15, 1972.
Witnesses said they saw her leaving a sorority event at Holmsedt Hall that night. She had planned to stay on campus with sorority sisters, for other events scheduled on campus. She did not show up. She also didn't report to her job at a library. Family and friends were concerned.
Evidence preserved from the crime would aid the investigation for many years to come, such as the victim's eye glasses, purse, material forced into her mouth to gag her with, masking tape to hold it in place, clothes line-type rope used by the suspect to tie her hands behind her back, duct tape and a stick -- found in her pantyhose from her being taken to a wooded area before being placed in the trunk.
"Another piece of clothes line was wrapped tightly around her neck," Keen said, during his Powerpoint presentation at ISU.
Keen pointed out during yesterday's press conference, that Hand's criminal history and characteristics matched with the evidence regarding Milam's death. Further investigation would indicate Milam's murder was not the only one Hand would be accused of committing in his short lifetime. He was eventually shot and killed by deputies in shootout in 1978.
Hand reportedly was arrested in 1973 after allegedly kidnapping a man and woman while they were hitchking in Terre Haute and taking them to Gibson County. He threatened to shoot them and tied them up before taking the man to Posey County, where Keen said Hand then killed man. Hand was found not guilty by reason of insanity during a jury trial held in Monroe County.
He walked free in 1978, just before he allegedly attempted to kidnap another woman from a car -- when the fatal shootout with police occurred.
Keen was able to locate Hand's widow and two children living in Washington and Vincennes, Ind. They consented to DNA testing, which confirmed the late suspect was connected to Milam's murder. He says their assistance, along with many professionals helped find the killer.
A surviving sister of Milam, Charlene Sandford, also spoke during the announcement. She said the family is relieved to know who killed Pam. They are relieved to finally have answers about what happened 47 years ago. She described her sister as a wonderful person. She was talented, pretty and smart, she said, adding that they were content to know Hand is no longer a threat to others.
© Indiana Central News. All rights reserved. Terre Haute, Indiana
News Writer: Lucy Perry