by Robert A. Waters
September 1, 1981 dawned like every other day in Lakeland, Florida. Many of the 47,000 residents filtered from their homes and headed to work, school, or the many recreation sites in the area.
Officers from the Lakeland Police Department soon arrived.
In a separate bedroom, Slaten’s sons Jeff, 15, and Tim, 12, slept soundly. Officers rushed them from the apartment.
Slaten lay on the bed, half-clothed. She’d been raped, and a wire coat hanger placed around her neck and twisted tight. Her death must have been horrifying.
The crime went down on a slow week for news. Even so, local newspapers only used the homicide as filler for the back pages. Slaten, unemployed and living in the projects, mattered little to the rest of the community. The Lakeland Ledger reported the story on page 29 of 29.
Few suspects emerged during the investigation. Police interviewed those who knew Slaten, including a boyfriend, but no one stood out. The case quickly went cold.
Raised by their grandmother, the loss felt by Jeff and Tim overwhelmed them. While they were teenagers, the brothers grew up thinking LPD had a crack team of detectives working the case, and that it would be solved. Later, they learned that little had been done after the initial investigation. Linda Slaten was just another in a long list of unsolved murders in the area. Jeff and Tim eventually contacted a detective and got the case jump-started.
By 1997, DNA had advanced so that items collected from the crime scene could be tested. After obtaining a profile of the killer’s DNA, detectives checked several people close to Slaten, including her ex-husband and boyfriend. All were cleared.
Investigators placed the DNA profile in state and national databases, hoping for a cold hit. So far, there have been none.
Who murdered Linda Slaten? 32 years later, it’s still a mystery.
Could the killer have been someone she knew?
Could he have been an opportunistic predator who noticed the pretty young woman as he passed by her bedroom window?
Did Slaten have a stalker, someone who watched until the time was right, then stole in for the kill?
At the time, it’s thought that one or more serial killers were plying their gruesome trade in the area. For instance, in 1980, Cynthia Clements, 19, was kidnapped from the convenience store where she worked, her brutalized body found weeks later. Because of evidence discovered at the scene, detectives who worked the case are convinced her killer had committed sexual homicides many times before. “Once he gets started doing this type of thing, it usually progresses,” an investigator said.
In 1982, the remains of sixteen-year-old Leandra Hogan, found in nearby Hillsborough County, bore the marks of a serial killer.
These, and other cases, have never been solved.
With DNA, there’s always a chance that the killer of Linda Slaten will be caught. Here’s hoping he makes a mistake and his DNA profile pops up in some database.