MOBILE, Ala (WKRG) — It’s a case that has stumped investigators for almost four decades, but they’re not giving up, and neither is the victim’s family.
Branda Peters was a 21-year-old mother of three when her body turned up in some woods in the Todd Acres area in May 1981.
“She’d been beaten, savagely,” said Detective J.T. Thornton of the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office. “She also had been stabbed multiple times and the pattern of the stab wound indicates that it was very deliberate, very intentional.”
Brenda Peters’ brother, Ken Harden, was just 14-years-old at the time of the murder.
“It haunts me,” Harden said. “The night the two detectives came and said they had found her body and it just tore my parents apart.”
Almost 38 years later, Harden and Thornton continue to search for answers.
“I’ve never given up,” said Harden.
A person of interest almost from the beginning has been Lovey Riddle, whom Harden describes as a “career criminal,” in and out of prison most of his life.
“(Riddle) produced a confession that he later recanted,” said Thornton. “Some of what he told them matched the case and some of it was not even close. So they kind of ruled him out at the time.”
Last year, Thornton received a series of letters from a federal inmate in north Alabama.
Kenneth Hooks provided some details of the crime, but some inaccuracies as well.
Thornton did not know who Hooks was
“We actually came to find out that Hooks was in jail with Mr. Lovie Riddle at that time,” said Thornton. “To make it even stranger, Mr. Riddle, out of the blue, telephones me, and advises that he was the one who wrote some of the letters.”
Thornton says Riddle may still be trying to tie himself to the case to earn “status” in prison.
“If you know you’re going to be in jail for an extended time, or if you’ve spent most of your life in jail, you say ‘hey I murdered somebody,” Thornton explained. “That will keep the bigger guys away from you and make you seem more grandiose than you are.”
At one time, Riddle told authorities in Maine that he had killed 30 women. They determined that claim was false.
Like Detective Thornton, the victim’s brother doesn’t believe Riddle killed his sister
“I actually think somewhere in jail he heard somebody say something about my sister,” Harden said. “And he picked up on it and ran with it.”
Thornton says he plans to resubmit Peters’ clothes, her shoe, and items found at the scene like a hairbrush, to federal authorities for further analysis.
“Maybe they’ll find something that we missed,” he said. “Maybe they’ll find a drop of blood or something that may have come from the brief struggle that happened between Ms. Peters and her offender.”
Thornton and Harden vow to keep the case alive.
“Oh yeah, I’ll never give up until I take my last breath,” Harden said. “And then my children will probably carry on after me. I think she deserves a rightful answer. I deserve to know. Our family deserves to know.”