© 2021 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Law & Order

Missouri Attorney General Launches Cold Case Unit With Charges In Franklin County

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt watches as Tom Dittmeier addresses reporters on Dec. 3, 2020 at a press conference in St. Louis. Dittmeier, a veteran prosecutor, came out of retirement to help lead Schmitt's new cold case unit.
Bill Greenblatt
Tom Dittmeier, who prosecuted cases at the state and federal levels for decades, addresses reporters Thursday. He's one of the leaders of Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt's new cold case unit.

Missouri’s attorney general has launched a new unit in his office that will focus on unsolved homicides and other serious crimes.

“Tragically, Missouri has dozens of murder cases across the state that have remained unsolved for years, even decades. Those victims must not be forgotten,” Attorney General Eric Schmitt said Thursday at a news conference in St. Louis announcing the unit. “Every case that remains unsolved is more than a stat. They are human beings. To seek justice and hold perpetrators accountable is our mission.”

The unit will work with prosecutors and police departments across the state to get a fresh set of eyes on old cases, Schmitt said. Prosecutors from the county where the crime occurred will handle any eventual charges in court. He has talked to the Missouri State Highway Patrol about cases that could benefit from a fresh look but encouraged departments to contact his office.

“This is an outreach effort to local law enforcement,” he said.

Schmitt said he was able to coax two experienced prosecutors — Tom Dittmeier and Dean Hoag — out of retirement to lead the effort and plans to hire additional investigators and attorneys in his office to help. Dittmeier spent decades as a prosecutor at the state and federal levels, including several mob-related cases. Cold case work is “fulfilling,” he said, and the years he spent on the job are a crucial part of making the unit successful.

“You’ve seen so many cases,” he said. “You’re picking up things sometimes that others haven’t seen in a case. You know how things fit together in a case. I can read statements a lot of times and immediately know that the person knows more than they’re telling you.”

Dittmeier played a key role in the unit’s first case, the arrest of Kenneth Avery for the slaying of Kristen Edwards.

Edwards was 25 when she was found strangled in a wooded area of Franklin County in July 1985. New evidence developed by the unit led to Avery’s arrest. He is being held on a $500,000 cash bond.

“Her husband at the time has been made aware,” said Franklin County Sheriff Scott Pelton. “Honestly, I think it’s a sigh of relief that they’ve got some answers now and that we’re moving forward.”

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.