FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Tucked away near the city of Mountainburg is the final resting place of Teresa Rogers’ sister, Gail.
“I remember asking the deputy there if it could’ve been an accident and he said no way,” Teresa said.
Oct. 17, 1980 – A motorcyclist found the body of a woman, left for dead, in a wooded area of Fayetteville off Highway 16.
She was found only wearing white socks, a flannel shirt, and a blue Michelin jacket.
Her pants and underwear were removed and found near her body.
“I called and my mom said you need to come up here,” Teresa said. “The worst thing you can imagine has happened.”
The woman had been run over, tire marks imprinted in the dirt. Her socks were damp and dirty from the wet soil from the rain. Her left foot created a dip in the dirt from moving back and forth, telling investigators her final hours were long and full of suffering.
“She met me out in front of the yard and told me it was Gail,” Teresa said.
The woman known only as Jane Doe was later identified as Gail Vaught.
Just over 6 ft. and 155 lbs., the 21-year-old from Mountainburg worked in construction as a grade operator, moving to Fayetteville for the job.
Gail’s autopsy report revealed she had also been shot in the head.
“It was merciless,” Teresa said. “There was no mercy in what they did.”
A bullet was found stuck in her skull, something that was missed by investigators at the crime scene because there wasn’t a pool of blood near the wound.
Former Washington County Sheriff Herb Marshall was one of the first people on the scene.
“It flicks back in my mind of what I saw when I arrived at the crime scene,” Marshall said. “These things stay in a person’s mind.”
The crime scene told its own story to investigators.
A used condom was found by Gail’s body, staging a possible sexual assault which Marshall says was never proven to have happened.
Evidence including the condom, a gun box, duct tape, soil, and fiber samples was sent to the state crime lab.
The handling of all the evidence didn’t help the investigation lead to an arrest.
In Nov. 1980 – the crime lab announced it was limiting specific tests of evidence not related to major crimes due to extreme backlog and budget difficulties.
In Jan. 1983 – three years after Gail’s murder, documents showed some evidence in Gail’s case was destroyed.
Later that same year the lab told investigators it could no longer do testing on Gail’s case despite it being a homicide case. What wasn’t destroyed was then returned back to Washington County, with only a few slides staying behind at the lab.
“In any cold case, the big challenge is finding the evidence if any exists,” Kermit Channell said.
Channell is the current director of the Arkansas Crime Lab.
“Anything prior, let’s say 1996, there could be evidence in a case that wasn’t subjected to modern DNA technology,” said Channell.
For instance, the used condom.
DNA testing wasn’t accessible in Arkansas until the 1990s. Tests at the time of the murder just confirmed sperm was present in the condom.
In the early 1980s, it wasn’t required by law that investigators had to preserve that type of evidence.
“If it’s in a dried condition and it’s stored appropriately [temperature controlled environment], we could have success in going back to an old case like this and actually getting a DNA profile,” Channell said.
But at the time of the murder, investigators thought they were on to something.
“She still had food cooking on the stove,” Marshall said. “This told us that somebody she knew had came to the house and had taken her from the house.”
According to the case file, they did name one suspect, Gail’s boyfriend ray Forman.
“The boyfriend was a drug user,” Marshall said. “She had used drugs with him at various times. Anytime you get drugs, people using drugs involved in a homicide, it can mushroom into different areas.”
But Forman had an alibi the night of Gail’s murder and there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest him or anyone.
Marshall was out of the office a few months after Gail’s death.
“For such a terrible crime to happen, if there’s anything I could’ve done differently, I certainly would’ve done it,” Marshall said. “I’m sorry we didn’t get the case solved before I left office.”
Teresa says Gail’s unsolved murder devasted her parents. Her father carried the pain with him until his death in 2000.
“He told me the only regret that he ever had in his life was the fact there never was an answer to who killed Gail,” Teresa said.
Teresa retired in 2013. Since then, she’s made it her mission to find the truth, seeking help from a private investigator, and having the sheriff’s office close the case so the P.I. could obtain all the files, reviewing them with a fresh pair of eyes.
“I get the sense that she knew whoever killed her,” Teresa said. “For that reason, I think I’m so persistent in getting answers.”
Now, because of KNWA/FOX24’s investigation, the crime lab is also looking back on the case and retesting what they still have on file.
“I think we have an obligation to move forward with the science and technology today to try and help find those answers,” Channell said.
Answers that will hopefully lead to the truth, who killed Gail Vaught?
At last check, the crime lab is still processing what they have. KNWA/FOX24 is waiting to hear the results.
In the meantime, Gail’s family has opened a tip line if anyone has information that could help them. The number is 888-263-6970.