Frozen in Time

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Sandra Chapman/13 Investigates

Shelby County - It was a horrific crime. A 50-year old mother, found slashed in her Shelbyville home in the dead of winter. For 12 years, the killer has roamed free. Police believe it's someone she knew. 13 Investigates rekindles key clues in a case frozen in time.

Five minutes before midnight on January 12, 1997 a 911 emergency came from the pay phone at Mickey's T-Mart in Shelbyville.

The Dispatcher answered, "911. Do you have an emergency?"

On the other end was 22-year-old Jennifer Gahimer. "Oh, I'm not really for sure. I just went by my house, my front door is open. The front door is open. There's another door into the house and it's open," she told the dispatcher.

Minutes earlier, Gahimer arrived to a fresh blanket of snow and a chilling discovery. Her mother's normally secured doors were flung open and the phone inside, off the hook.

Investigators say Jennifer was afraid to go in.

The tape of the 911 call goes on with the dispatcher asking, "Is there anybody there?"

Jennifer Gahimer responded, "If my mom, my mom should be there. Please I don't know if there's (inaudible)."

That's when the dispatcher said, "Okay, just calm down. Go there and wait in front of the house and don't get out until the police get there."

At the scene, 50-year-old Sandra Gahimer, a quiet home-body, lay brutally murdered on her bathroom floor. She was dressed in bed clothes and her throat was slashed.

"A 50-year-old woman who basically stayed to herself - a low risk victim." That's how Shelbyville Detective Bill Dwenger described Sandra Gahimer.

There was no forced entry and nothing taken. Now 12 years later, there are hot tears over a cold trail on a crime still frozen in time.

"I want to know why she was murdered," Tessa Currens said matter-of-factly.

She grieves the loss of her little sister. Their bond since childhood was severed that night. Now her family is torn by years of unwavering suspicion.

"We're all still in pain, we all hurt. I think we're all mad, sad, and you know all kinds of feelings go through," Currens confided to 13 Investigates.

It's not just who killed Sandra Gahimer, but how she died. Police say it was no random act, but a vicious attack by someone she knew.

"It was a very brutal, very violent homicide," recalls Dwenger, who arrived on the murder scene just after midnight. He's been working the case ever since.

Shelbyville Police Chief Bill Elliott disclosed, "It appears that she was also battered prior to being cut with a knife."

"Her throat was slashed. [Detectives] told me it went almost to the spine. It was like they knew what they were doing and it was more intentional than mad, than rage," concluded Currens.

Family and friends faced questioning, starting with the daughter who dialed 911.

On the 911 tape, the dispatcher asked Jennifer, "You don't know if anybody is inside?"

Jennifer Gahimer told her in a frantic voice, "I, I don't know."

Jennifer Gahimer told police she never went inside the home. Still, 13 Investigates has learned her shoe print was taken from an unknown location. She now refuses to speak about the case.

13 Investigates asked the Chief, "Is there any indication that family members could or are possibly involved in this?" Chief Elliott's response, "There's always that possibility, " he admitted.

Police records show Jennifer, who lived with her mother, plead guilty to drug related charges eight months earlier. A former bar owner where she once worked reported finding a suspicious knife behind a filing cabinet at the bar. But police don't believe it's the murder weapon.

Years earlier, Sandra Gahimer called police after finding a strange man who lived down the street inside her home. She made a second report months later on similar suspicions. But investigators won't say there's a connection to the murder.

According to Detective Dwenger, "All of that info that we've recovered up to this point has been exhausted."

And then there's a haunting comment Gahimer made to her sister just two weeks before she was murdered.

"She says you know, I'm going to wake up dead in this house someday. And that's all she said, and she would not talk anymore about it," Currens said, wishing she had pushed harder for more information.

An autopsy revealed Sandra Gahimer had defensive wounds on her hands, indicating she tried to fend off her attacker. That prompted police to look for possible cuts on persons of interest.

First, a former live-in boyfriend of three years and expert craftsman Donny Buchanan.

"They said that she had skin underneath her fingernails. They wanted to make sure I didn't have any marks on me," Buchanan confirmed.

Then businessman Rudy Thoman, a friend who casually dated Gahimer several weeks before the attack. He didn't attend her funeral, but can't recall why. He told 13 Investigates and police he has nothing to hide.

"They didn't tell me I was a suspect if I was, but I didn't care, whether I was or wasn't. I was just kind of in shock about it to be honest," Thoman explained.

Both men, now in their 60s, say Sandra Gahimer was too nice to suffer so tragically. Shaking his head, Don Buchanan summed up what all of Gahimer's friends told 13 Investigates, "She's one of the nicest people in the world," he said. "I hope they find out something. Who, what, why?"

"I have her photograph up on my bulletin board. I see it every day," added Detective Dwenger who vows to work the case until it's solved or he retires.

Twelve years and a dozen volumes detailing more than a hundred interviews have yet to crack the icy clues.

"Just waiting. Just wondering," said Gahimer's sister. "I can't imagine living, knowing that someone I loved murdered someone. And that would be hard. But it's the right thing to do to come forward," she said.

It's come down to a $1,000 reward for the person who turns in the cold-blooded killer. Anyone with information is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at (317) 262-TIPS or 1-800-92ALERT.