Theresa Casebolt, unable to get her mother on the phone the night before, spent the hourlong drive into Columbus pretending she didn't have the shivers. On that morning, Aug. 9, 2000, she fought the growing unease that made it difficult to breathe.
Theresa Casebolt, unable to get her mother on the phone the night before, spent the hourlong drive into Columbus pretending she didn’t have the shivers.
On that morning, Aug. 9, 2000, she fought the growing unease that made it difficult to breathe.
Probably, Delores Jean Williams had just stayed late visiting friends. She probably had been with one of the teachers at Weinland Park Elementary — the school where she had volunteered for so long — and time had gotten away from her.
As Theresa eased her minivan to the curb at 3441 Derbyshire Dr. in North Linden, she saw that a back patio privacy gate at one of the Carriage House apartments was ajar; police officers were stringing yellow tape from one side of the fence to the other.
It didn’t occur to her that the gate belonged to Apartment B. She approached the front door, but a man in a suit stopped her. You can’t go in, he told her. It’s a crime scene.
Theresa told him who she was, and the detective pulled her aside. He said her mother was dead.
As the 70-year-old had sat at her kitchen table, surrounded by the stacks and piles and bins of fabric and yarn and glitter and glue that she turned into crafts, someone had beaten her so badly that investigators at first thought she had been shot in the face.
Her big-screen television was still on. Jewelry was where she’d left it, sprinkled here and there on counters and tables in the tiny apartment. Her purse had been dumped on the table, but $300 in cash remained.
Nothing appeared to be missing.
“This makes absolutely no sense,” Theresa says now, 13 years after her mother’s body was found. “ They didn’t rob her. They didn’t take anything. They just went in and took my mother from us.”
At Weinland Park Elementary, in a neighborhood choked by poverty, a warm smile and hug are always needed.
So it was with joy that “Grandma Jean” was welcomed as a teacher’s helper each day. The Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities recognized her for the difference she made in children’s lives. The governor honored her as a volunteer of the year in the state’s foster grandparent program. And the kids showered her with love.
“There were more teenagers and children at her funeral than adults,” Theresa, 50 and now living in South Carolina, recalled. “Mom loved every one of them as if they were her own.”
At her apartment, Delores easily could have weed-whacked the postage-stamp-size patch of grass around her patio. Instead, whatever neighbor boy told her he was trying to save money for something special was welcomed over for the chore. He’d leave with $5 and usually a can of Coke and a cake. And this was from a woman whose daughter bought her medicine because she never had enough money to go around.While Delores was a stand-in grandmother for many, others claimed her by blood.
Richard Casebolt, a 31-year-old who works for Ohio State University and lives in German Village, spent a great deal of time with his grandmother growing up, watching her transform plastic forks and pretty ribbon into decorative fans, foam balls into holiday ornaments, patio bricks into decorated doorstops.
She was always cheerful, he said. “She had a little chuckle behind everything she said, no matter what it was.”
She loved roller coasters and amusement parks. She rode horses, even at 70. And she and Richard, when he was young, never missed the Ohio State Fair.
“Everyone should be so lucky as to have a Mamaw like that,” he said.
Police discovered Delores’ body because a neighbor had called to say she hadn’t been seen in a day or two. Officers found the front door locked, but the patio doors leading into the kitchen were wide open.
Columbus police cold-case detective Bill Gillette said Delores likely was killed late on the night of Aug. 7, probably by someone using one of her own bricks. An upstairs neighbor thought she had heard a commotion.
What no one has been able to figure out is why. She seemingly had no enemies. “As for a motive, to be honest, I’m not sure,” Gillette said.
Besides the money and the jewelry left behind, no drawers were open, the place wasn’t ransacked, no furniture was tipped over as if there had been a fight.
The killer (or killers) did wander about the apartment, though. Blood specks were all over — on the television guide lying on the living-room floor, the paper towels hanging in the kitchen, the soft pillow — “grandma’s paddle” — hanging on a wall.
There also were blood smears on coffee mugs, cookie jars, canisters and knick-knacks. The killer also left a few things behind: phone records from where, detectives think, someone used Delores’ home phone after she was dead, plus fingerprints and maybe even some DNA.There have been good leads over the years, but never enough for an arrest.
A tip led to a teen who had been staying with his own grandmother in the complex. Years later, a hit came back on a fingerprint match to another neighborhood punk, Gillette said.
Both boys were younger than 18 when Delores was killed. And one was eventually linked to a burglary in the area in the weeks before her death.
The suspect who matched the fingerprint told detectives he didn’t know how it got there. The other one never showed up for police interviews. Both are adults now.One is serving time in federal prison in West Virginia; Gillette visited him in March, but he wouldn’t talk. The other man still lives in town. Gillette intends to find him.
The detective is sending old evidence to labs in hopes that modern science will find some DNA that leads to answers.
And Theresa? She still cries for her mom.
“I don’t have anybody to talk to anymore that knows me inside and out and cares about me or loves me in spite of it. I don’t have anyone that's going to tell me life’s going to be OK on my bad days,” she said. “The simple things in life like moving your hair out of your face, like touching your hands. Those are things I miss.”
Central Ohio Crime Stoppers is offering up to $5,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in this case. Tips can be submitted anonymously online at Central Ohio Crime Stoppers, www.stopcrime.org, or by calling Crime Stoppers at 614-461-8477.