Sunday, August 8, 2004

Hot on the trail of cold cases

Boone officer solves mysteries that have eluded others for years

By Jim Hannah
Enquirer staff writer

BURLINGTON - LaLana Bramble had just taken a bite out of a Subway sandwich when the phone rang at the beauty shop she managed.

That call changed everything.

"I remember when it rang," said Bramble, 28, of Mount Sterling. "It is a significant moment in my life."

It was Detective Todd Kenner. He had helped crack four cold cases in his seven years with the Boone County Sheriff's Department, and now he wanted to find the killer of Bramble's mother, Helen Marlene Major.

The case had gone unsolved for 23 years; Bramble had exhausted herself trying to find anyone who still cared.

Less than a year later, Kenner had a confession from Bramble's father, William Alexander Major. He is serving a life sentence at the Kentucky State Reformatory in LaGrange.

It brought crucial closure, said Bramble.

Major had contended for 23 years that his wife had run away and abandoned their children. His conviction, her daughter said, cleared her mother's name and the grieving family held a funeral.

Todd Kenner, a detective with the Boone County Sheriff's Department, is credited with helping crack five cold cases. All involved grizzly deaths. One dated back to 1980, while another was outside his jurisdiction and took place in Sharonville.

Larry Ray Freeman is serving 20 years for causing a wreck that killed a passenger in his car then trying to cover it up. He was convicted in April 1999 for the June 1994 death of Diane Washer. Freeman secretly buried her body in rural Boone County. The bones were identified after being compared to DNA from Washer's mother.

•Business tycoon Albert J. Schuholz Jr. remains in a mental hospital after being charged in 1999 with the killing of his second wife and her friend. Marie Schuholz and Starla Burns were found beaten and stabbed to death in May 1981 in Sharonville.

William Alexander Major was sentenced in August 2003 to life in prison for killing his wife. A prosecutor said he killed Helen Marlene Major in 1980. Her skull was found a year after her disappearance, but it took modern DNA analysis to positively identify it.

Leonard Day was sentenced in September 2003 to 50 years for his part in the killing of a former girlfriend. A prosecutor says he and a second person fatally stabbed Tina Rae Stevens in May 1999, dismembered her body and dumped it near the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Deborah Huiett, who is charged with murder and tampering with evidence in Stevens' death, is scheduled to stand trial on Dec. 7 in Boone County Circuit Court.

Paul Anthony White is awaiting trial on charges he participated in the dismemberment and slaying of Peggy Casey in April 1994. He was arrested in early 2001 and released on a $15,000 bond. A prosecutor says White is cooperating with authorities in a parallel investigation; she wouldn't be more specific. Detectives say they have a second suspect and that a third suspect is now dead.

"I knew my daughter didn't run away," said Mrs. Major's mother, Lorraine Oakes. "I had been telling people this from the beginning, but no one seemed to believe me. It was good to see the truth be told."

She said the memorial service, the proper grave, and a headstone helped her deal with the pain.

"You just couldn't believe how hard it was for us to know our daughter's skull was sitting in a forensic lab somewhere for all those years," Oakes said.

But Kenner said the success is not his alone.

Kenner credits the support he receives and lists - by the dozens - individuals and police departments he says deserve equal credit. While health problems might force him to retire though he's only 43, Kenner says he loves his work.

Commonwealth's Attorney Linda Tally Smith, who prosecuted Major, said Kenner comes by his skills naturally. His father, Ron, was a Boone County sheriff. After the senior Kenner died in 1997, his successor, Mike Helmig, soon hired Kenner.

"Todd has yet to come into my office and say, 'I just can't crack this one,' " Helmig said. "Just when he thinks he has hit a dead end, he breaks the case wide open. I've never seen anything quite like it."

Smith said that no matter whom Kenner approaches, "whether it is your local priest or run-of-the-mill dirt bag, they all like him." She said Bill Major initially thought Todd Kenner was his best friend.

"It is not often that you come across a suspect that thinks that about the guy that just arrested him for murder," Smith said.

Fort Mitchell Police Chief Steve Hensley said Kenner's success comes from his ability to communicate with people on many levels.

"He talks to people as opposed to talking down to people," said Hensley, who worked with Kenner to arrest Albert J. SchuholzJr. in an unsuccessful murder-for-hire plot to kill his fourth wife and sister-in-law. Schuholz is also under indictment in Hamilton County for the 1981 killing of his second wife, Marie, and her friend, Starla Burns, in Sharonville.

"He doesn't pass judgment on them," Hensley said. "He makes it clear he is just trying to get the facts of the case, and he is not in the position to pass judgment."

Dr. Emily Craig, a state forensic anthropologist, worked with Kenner on the Major case and several others involving unidentified bones in Boone County.

"Todd Kenner just has this perseverance that is remarkable," said Craig. "As Kenny Rogers once sang, 'You gotta know when to hold them and when to fold 'em,' Todd just has the instinct. He knows when he has a good case, and he won't give up until he solves the puzzle."

Craig was a part of the identification team after the Sept. 11 attacks. She also helped identify bodies after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the 1993 Waco, Texas, Branch Davidian fire.

"His consumption with a case is only tempered with his compassion for this victim's family," Craig said.

Tanya Maddin knows Kenner's compassion.

Kenner hand-delivered the remains of her cousin, Tina Rae Stevens, from Craig's forensic lab in Frankfort to a Clifton crematory.

"I'll never forget it," Maddin said. "He walked in with a black gym bag containing the recovered remains. He couldn't apologize enough. We cried together."

Leonard Day was sentenced in September 2003 to 50 years for his part in the killing of Stevens, his former girlfriend.

Todd's wife, Maureen Kenner, a public health nurse in Boone County, said her husband is consumed with every case he takes.

"He eats, sleeps and talks the case," Mrs. Kenner said.

"And he doesn't stop until he figures it out."



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