On a gorgeous March weekday, shortly after school let out, someone entered the 2˝-story brick home of two doctors and killed their child and their housecleaner.
Both were stabbed in the neck: Thomas Hunter, 11, a curious sixth-grade boy who loved nature, science and animals. And Shirlee Sherman, 57, who enjoyed gardening, crocheting and spending time with her grandchildren.
Sunday marks the third anniversary of one of the most baffling, unsolved homicide cases to jolt Omaha in years. “It's still a sore spot,” said Dr. Vernon Ward, a longtime neighbor.
Ward, a retired physician, and others still ask the same questions that were first raised three years ago:
Who was the olive-skinned stranger spotted by other neighbors?
The man who slowed his vehicle near the Hunters' home, apparently searching for a specific address? Who finally parked on a side street about a block away from the Hunters' home near 54th and Davenport Streets?
Who wore a dark suit and white shirt and carried a dark-colored satchel or briefcase over his shoulder as he approached the Hunters' front door?
The man who calmly walked back to his vehicle a short time later?
This is the same man who has eluded the Omaha Police Department for three years now.
“It is frustrating,” said Bill Hunter, Tommy's father. “As each month passes, as another year passes, you start to ask, ‘Are they ever going to solve this?' It just feels more discouraging.”
Police have told the Hunters the killer left behind little physical evidence, except for bloody knives.
But Omaha Police Chief Alex Hayes said that by no means should the double murder case be considered unsolvable.
Lt. Ken Kanger has been in charge of the Dundee investigation since 2009. Over the years, Kanger, former head of Omaha's cold-case unit, has helped solve a number of his department's most difficult homicides.
“Do I think the case is still solvable? Yes, I definitely think so,” Hayes said. “I have got ultimate confidence in Ken Kanger.”
Hayes said Friday that detectives still are working through what he called “viable information” and continue to uncover new details.
Just last month, Omaha Detective Doug Herout contacted Bill Hunter with a list of names, asking if he recognized any of them, Hunter told The World-Herald.
Hunter said that none of the names were familiar to him. None were former Creighton University students or work colleagues.
Bill and Claire Hunter are longtime faculty members at Creighton University Medical Center. He is in the pathology department; she works in the cardiology department.
Tommy was the youngest of their four sons and the only one still living at home. Claire Hunter was in Hawaii at a medical school conference when her husband discovered the two bodies after he returned home from campus around 5:50 p.m.
Days after Herout's contact, Kanger paid a visit to the house on a Saturday, Bill Hunter said. Kanger re-examined the house to get a better visual understanding of the crime scene and stayed about 30 minutes to talk.
Hunter said he's impressed with Kanger's dedication and perseverance.
Sherman's mother, Joanne Banks, 81, said she has lost hope that her daughter's death will be solved. Sherman ran her own cleaning business. She cleaned the Hunters' house about once a week.
Sherman visited her mother daily in Bellevue. She often brought freshly cut flowers and homegrown vegetables from her Benson neighborhood garden. Sherman was the oldest of four siblings and three stepbrothers and sisters. She divorced many years ago, and had two adult children.
“Shirlee was a generous person,” Banks said. “To go out and kill her and the little boy. ... It's so hard to think anybody would do something like that.”
Omaha private investigator Tom Gorgen said he has worked off and on for the Sherman family on the case. The former Omaha police detective sergeant said he's looking into various people who interacted with the Hunters at Creighton.
“The background we've done on Shirlee's family has not revealed anyone to be associated with these homicides,” Gorgen said. “The investigation with Creighton University is still ongoing. I have hired additional investigators in other states to assist with the investigation.”
Omaha police have been receptive to additional help, Hayes said.
By summer 2008, in search of answers, Hayes' predecessor, Chief Eric Buske, turned to the FBI to assist with computer forensics and to develop a criminal profile of the killer.
The FBI's behavioral profilers concluded the Dundee slayings appeared to be random homicides possibly committed by a transient serial killer, according to multiple sources who spoke on condition they not be identified.
Hayes said the investigation has changed considerably since the FBI's profilers were first asked to provide help only a matter of months after the slayings occurred.
“At some point, we will re-approach the profiler folks from the FBI with additional details since that first meeting,” Hayes said Friday.
Police have developed several theories over the past three years of the investigation, but most have been discounted. One of those involved a possible connection to the unsolved 2007 stabbing of a 50-year-old woman inside her South Omaha house; an evidence trail failed to materialize.
As the police work persists, another anniversary passes.
Sherman's family grows weary. “After three years, it's hard to stay positive,” said Brad Waite, the victim's brother. “We were at first.”
Bill Hunter said: “If anyone knows anything, please, speak up. I think it is very frustrating for both of our families to have no answers.”
Hayes, the former commander of the homicide unit, wants to reassure the families and the community that solving the Dundee case and all unsolved Omaha slayings is a top priority of his administration.
“Those cases are very personal to me, and I want to make sure those cases get solved,” Hayes said. “I understand what it takes to really close a case. It takes a significant amount of time and resources, particularly in homicides, sifting through and analyzing information.”
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