Tuesday, November 25, 2014

1992 cold murder revisited

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 3/22/2013

Though Doris Branson was murdered in her rural Franklin County home 21 years ago Wednesday, former Sheriff Craig Davis said he hasn’t stopped thinking about the case.

And the sheriff’s office and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation haven’t given up on solving the crime either. Franklin County Crime Stoppers, Inc. has made the unsolved homicide its “Crime of the Week.”

Though Doris Branson was murdered in her rural Franklin County home 21 years ago Wednesday, former Sheriff Craig Davis said he hasn’t stopped thinking about the case.

And the sheriff’s office and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation haven’t given up on solving the crime either. Franklin County Crime Stoppers, Inc. has made the unsolved homicide its “Crime of the Week.”

Branson was 45 when she died of blood loss from multiple stab wounds to the face, neck, chest and abdomen, according to Herald news accounts of the crime. Davis confirmed Wednesday that Branson had suffered multiple stab wounds.

Davis, who was a captain with the sheriff’s office at the time of the crime, said investigators checked into hundreds of leads following the March 20, 1992, murder. News reports indicated more than 25 officers from the sheriff’s office, Ottawa Police Department and KBI were following up on those leads — said to number more than 200 — in the first few days after the crime, according to news accounts.

“This was originally my case, and I’ve never forgotten it,” Davis said.

Branson’s murder wasn’t a random killing, Davis said.

“There was a reason she was killed,” he said.

But Davis and Sgt. Shane Pruitt, a current supervising detective with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, said the sheriff’s office isn’t ruling out any possibilities.

Davis said investigators were able to determine Branson was murdered during a three-hour window between the last time she was seen alive and when her body was discovered.

Gary Branson called 911 at 7:53 p.m. that Friday and told authorities he found his wife in the hallway near the kitchen, just inside a doorway from an attached garage, when he arrived home from his job as a Kansas City lithographer, according to news accounts. Reports also indicated a neighbor had spotted Doris Branson near her mailbox late Friday afternoon.

The couple lived in a ranch-style home in the 2400 block of Shawnee Road, northwest of Ottawa, news reports said.  

In the days following the murder, law enforcement officers set up “check lanes” to stop motorists in the surrounding area to ask them if they had been in the area between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on the night of the murder and if they had seen anything out of the ordinary that might help officers find Branson’s killer.

Davis on Wednesday declined to discuss potential suspects, since the investigation remains open. He said some physical evidence was recovered at the scene, but he declined to provide details about the evidence.

Pruitt also said he could not comment on potential suspects or evidence because the investigation is still open.

“When I became sheriff in 2001,” Davis said, “We re-examined the case and came up with some more leads. That same year, I asked the KBI cold case squad to review the case, and they came up with some additional leads and theories.”

But so far, Davis said, investigators have been unable to find the correct lead to solve the case.

“We looked at the case every year,” Davis, who served as sheriff for about 9 1/2 years from 2001 to 2010, said.

The sheriff’s office has kept the murder file open, even though 21 years have passed, Pruitt said.

“We have received tips [through the years], and we’ve investigated every lead,” Pruitt said. “But, so far, those have not proved fruitful.”

With any cold case that is more than two decades old, Pruitt said, the lapsed time does provide its challenges.

“Evidence can deteriorate, people move, people pass away, memories fade,” Pruitt said. “But I truly believe every case is solvable. All we need is just that one piece of vital information.”

Davis agreed with Pruitt, adding he was confident investigators would find Branson’s killer.

“We just need that one correct lead,” Davis said. “I think it will be solved one day.”

Franklin County Crime Stoppers made the unsolved homicide its Crime of the Week, Pruitt said, in an effort to hopefully jog people’s memories about the day of the murder 21 years ago this week.

“It’s very possible someone might have the clue we need without even realizing it,” Pruitt said, because of the time that has lapsed. “I know March 20, 1992, might not be a significant date to most people, but we just want them to try and think back to where they were on that day and try to recall if they were in the area on the afternoon and evening of the murder and what they might have seen.”

“I hope we can solve this case,” Pruitt said. “The family deserves justice. Doris Branson deserves justice.”

Doug Carder is senior writer at The Herald. Email him at dcarder@ottawaherald.com

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