VPSO taking closer look at 1980 homicide

<p class="p1">Mary Darlene Howard, Body found in 1980</p>

<p class="p1">The Vernon Parish Sheriff’s Office is reigniting efforts to solve a nearly 40-year-old homicide case on the anniversary of the discovery of the victim’s body.

<p class="p1">April 27 marked 38 years since detectives discovered the body of 15-year-old Mary Darlene Howard, who had been reported missing on April 15, 1980.

<p class="p1">According to Sheriff Sam Craft, Howard was last seen by her mother at her residence in the Sandy Hill community in Leesville at about 10 a.m. that day, when Howard was said to be walking to put a letter in the mailbox.

<p class="p1">Howard’s body was found in a wooded area on West Boundary Road not far from her home, he said. On Friday, Craft released new information on Howard’s death and said he believes the killer was someone whom Howard knew.

<p class="p1">“The crime was committed in a somewhat personal nature, and we believe she was face to face with her killer at the time that this happened,” Craft said.

<p class="p1">“She had defensive wounds to her arms. She was stabbed multiple times, so we believe she put up a struggle and fought for her life.”

<p class="p1">Craft said the case has a “strong chance” of being solved and that his detectives are collecting new DNA evidence that 40 years ago was not a factor in investigations. Already, he said, new leads are surfacing.

<p class="p1">“It’s still early in the investigation, but there are a few names that we have uncovered that are definitely now persons of interest to us that possibly may not have been at that time,” Craft said.

<p class="p1">One of the biggest hurdles for the cold case team, he said, has been to sort through the evidence that was collected in the 1980s and then track down the people who were a part of that original investigation.

<p class="p1">“You know, people move, people relocate and women change their last names as they marry, so it just requires a lot of time that these detectives have been willing to dedicate to solve this case,” he said.

<p class="p1">Chief Detective Rhonda Jordan said the team has already put in over 100 man hours “purging” the historical evidence room, searching through 40 years worth of past evidence in the hopes of making a break in the case.

<p class="p1">“It was a bit overwhelming to open that door and see wall-to-wall files and tubs overflowing with evidence,” she said. “But we are about two-thirds of the way through, and we have really made some great progress.”

<p class="p1">Some of the most difficult parts of that purge process, she said, involved electronically filing photographs and testimonies that were originally on VHS and microcassette tapes. She said the team scans all physical photographs and then re-records video footage to then convert to an electronic file.

<p class="p1">Craft commended the team’s efforts and said their dedication was inspiring and the prime reason he felt so strongly that Howard’s case would be solved.

<p class="p1">“Someone out there knows something. I can’t say it enough that if someone knows anything, no matter how insignificant they think it is, to please call us,” he said. “That one tiny thing could be what breaks this case wide open.”

<p class="p1">Anyone with information on the death of Mary Darlene Howard is asked to contact the Vernon Parish Sheriff’s Office at 337-238-7248.

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