New effort targets unsolved homicides

Jul. 29, 2014 @ 09:29 PM

It’s been almost 25 years since Cynthia Jones Kirk was found stabbed to death at her home. And it’s been almost 25 years since her older sister lost her best friend.

In August 1989, the murder of a 34-year-old mother while her 19-month-old daughter slept upstairs in their home at 502 Constitution Drive hit hard in the American Village neighborhood.
Kirk’s sister, Beverly Sechler, still remembers that day back in 1989. It was Aug. 21. Sechler left Kirk’s house so Kirk could get ready for work and bring her daughter to the babysitters. After running errands, she came home to a call from Kirk’s babysitter. So she went back to check on her.
“Her car was in the driveway, and I pulled in behind her car,” Sechler said. “I saw blood on the driveway, and I knew something horrible had happened.”
Her instincts kicked in.
“I remember thinking ‘I better go get help,’” Sechler said. So she did. Luckily she was able to find a neighbor who could help. He went into Kirk’s house, and stopped Sechler from entering to see exactly what had happened.
Kirk was stabbed five times in the middle of the day. No one saw it happen. Only one neighbor heard her screams.
It was a normal day for Kirk. She was getting ready to take her daughter to the babysitter’s, and then head off to work at the Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company. She was attacked while she was loading items into her car.  .
Police couldn’t solve the mystery as to why Kirk was targeted. She wasn’t robbed. She wasn’t assaulted. Yet, her death shook up a neighborhood north of Duke Forest, and left unanswered questions.
Why was she killed?
Who killed her?
It’s those questions that still drive investigators to look into her death, 25 years later.
Investigators had a vague description of the suspect: a middle-aged white man driving a green-colored sedan. Police were never able to get a more detailed description of the suspect or his car. 
“I can’t imagine anyone wanting to hurt my sister,” Sechler said. “She was very kind, and I can’t think of any possible reason.”
Police received 200 leads and offered up a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. But nothing came. Questions were never answered. 
Twenty-five years later, those questions are still unanswered. Kirk’s homicide remains unsolved.
“I always hope that someone can solve it,” Sechler said. She’s dealt with multiple investigators, and dead ends over the years, but she hasn’t given up hope.
“I’ll never quit missing her,” Sechler said. 
Kirk’s murder isn’t the oldest unsolved homicide in Durham’s history, but hers is one of 27 homicides that are featured on the Durham Police Department’s website.
Earlier this month, the department launched a special section of its website to help generate tips to help solve the cases, and serve a reminder that the cases are still open.
Department spokesperson Kammie Michael along with members of the homicide unit compiled the information after noticing a general interest in getting the information out to the public. The investigators also wanted to get closure for the families, and the cases.
“(It started) just to try and bring some closure and solve the cases, and to try and get some information from the community,” Cpl. Tom McMaster said. “That’s our goal for anything. … We’d like to solve 100 percent.”
McMaster said there are more than 100 unsolved homicides in Durham. Michael said more cases will be put up as investigators contact family members to let them know about the site.
“We also like to let the family know,” Investigator Delois West said. “So far everybody’s been pleased that we’ve spoke with.”
It provides the department with another avenue for tapping into the community.
“It’s really just another way to reach out to the community, because we know there are people out there that have information,” Michael said.
McMaster and West said many of the families of the victims still live in the same neighborhoods and others still are in contact with investigators, even years after their loved ones have died.
West said that sometimes, after years have gone by loyalties can shift and witnesses will come forward with new information or perhaps something jogs their memory.
This is the first time in the department’s history that there is one place for information about unsolved homicides to go. Michael said a specific email and phone number has been set up for tips or general information.
McMaster said a few tips have come in already. They’re looking at those leads. People can also call CrimeStoppers to give information anonymously
The website also remains a reminder that unsolved crimes remain on the minds of many investigators.
“I think really one of the big things the website is saying is the Police Department has not forgotten, these are still active cases and we still want to solve them,” Michael said.