MOBILE COUNTY, Ala. (WKRG) - On December 27, 1999, some children riding the bicycles they had just gotten for Christmas, made a gruesome discovery in some woods off Dauphin Island Parkway in the Hollinger’s Island area. They found the body of a woman who had been sexually assaulted and killed. But who was she?
“The more you know about the victim, the more likely you are to solve the crime,” says Sgt. Rusty Hardeman of the Mobile Police Department.
Police knew nothing about the victim at the time the body was found, and not much more almost two decades later.
The body was badly decomposed, but investigators were able to lift a fingerprint.
“She had had one minor arrest, several years before and that put her fingerprints in a system called AFIS,” Hardeman said. “Without that fingerprint, she may never have been identified.”
Police had a name, Gayle Ekstrom, and in time a couple of pictures, but little else. It turned out that the recently divorced 45-year-old took a few belongings and her dog and hopped in her car, leaving central Florida behind and looking for a new life, somewhere.
“We believe the reason she was in Mobile was that she just ran out of money,” Hardeman said.
Four days after Ekstrom’s body was found, her car was found burned behind a shopping center in Theodore, where a Sheriff’s Office substation is now located. There was no usable evidence in the car.
Hardeman says investigators usually work on a murder case from the victim on out. Who were her friends? Enemies? Neighbors? What were her habits? In Ekstrom'’s case, all dead-ends.
“You look at people’s relationships,” said Hardeman. “And the people who they have relationships may not be your suspects, they may not be who you’re looking at, but they can tell about that person’s life and the other people they dealt with and came in contact with. In this case, we just didn’t have that.”
Police determined Ekstrom had been in Mobile no more than a few weeks. The last place she was seen was at the Main Event, a bar on Highway 90 in Theodore. She was seen there one week before her body was found.
Recently Hardeman looked through a large file on the Ekstrom investigation. He says with the victim herself was a mystery of sorts, the road to her killer, so far, has proved impossible.
“Most victims and suspects have a connection and when you can find that connection you can find the reason for it,” he said. “And that is what leads to solving most cases.”
Hardeman says the killer likely told someone about the crime, and it will take someone coming forward, almost two decades after the killing, to solve the crime.
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