Thursday, October 19, 2017

Who Murdered the Ladies of Niceville?

DNA Solves One Case, Four More to Go 
by Robert A. Waters 

For 37 years, Okaloosa County detectives figured they knew who killed Catherine Ainsworth.  But with little evidence, their suspect walked free, got married, had children, and lived a normal life.  Eventually, technology, in the form of DNA, would catch up with him.  Justice, however, would never be served. 

On August 30, 1975, two worried friends drove to the Niceville, Florida apartment of their co-worker, thirty-seven-year-old Catherine Ainsworth.  The pretty divorcee lived alone and worked as Supervisor of Eglin Air Force Base Exchange.  She hadn't come in to work that day, hadn't called in sick, and hadn't answered her phone. 

Arriving at Ainsworth's home, Edna Posey and Marlene Dickman noticed Ainsworth's car still in the driveway and music blasting from a radio inside her apartment.  They contacted the manager, and together entered the unlocked apartment door.  There lay Ainsworth, naked and bruisedAnd dead.  Placing a bedsheet over her face, the panicked trio called police. 

Soon investigators began canvassing the apartment complexOne man got their attention.  Sgt. William P. Rouse, an airman at Eglin, lived two units down from Ainsworth.  When questioned, he lied about his whereabouts, stating that he'd been playing poker with friends all night.  His pals debunked that alibi, recalling that he'd left early, and they never saw him again that night. 

On further questioning, Rouse changed his story.  He thought maybe he'd come home and gone to bed on the night in questionOr maybe he got up and drove to a nearby storebut maybe not.  Detectives could never nail down a specific timeframe for Rouse's movements, so he remained a suspect.  However, in pre-DNA America, there was no evidence to arrest the airman. 

The coroner concluded that Ainsworth had been badly beaten and strangled with a "military-style" web belt that had a picket-fence pattern.  Her shoulder had multiple fractures, indicating a brutal assaultInvestigators found semen on a rug that lay underneath her 

Born in Ireland, Ainsworth had lived in Niceville for 5 years.  Divorced, she had two daughters and a son.  She made friends easily and was loved by her co-workers.  A few days after her death, Ainsworth was buried in Niceville's Beal Cemetery. 

Nearly four decades later, in 2010, detectives submitted the semen-stained rug to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab for testing.  A profile was developed, but it matched no one in CODIS or any other DNA database. 

After tracking down Rouse's relatives, police learned that he left the Air Force shortly after the murders and returned to his home state of New York.  He died in 2006.  A family member supplied police with two fedoras once owned by the suspect.  These were tested and thirty-seven years after the murder, in 2012, Rouse's DNA matched the semen sample found on the rug. 

Investigators contacted Ainsworth's family to let them know the news.  Then they marked the case as "solved." 

But four other similar Okaloosa County murders that occurred between 1973 and 1978 remain unsolved 

On March 12, 1973, Debra Espey, 19 disappeared from Okaloosa-Walton Junior College in Niceville The Northwest Florida Daily News reported that "her body was found more than a month later on a dirt trail off Rocky Bayou Drive.  She had been beaten severely, possibly with a tire iron that was recovered nearby."  Naked from the waist down, the crime seemed to be a sexual assault that ended in murder.  Like several of the other murder victims, Espey's clothing and possessions were scattered beside her body.

On November 23, 1973, the remains of Theresa Dusevitch, 19, who lived in Valparaiso, was located off a dirt trail on Eglin Air Force Base northeast of Niceville, close to Rocky Bayou Country Club.  She'd been shot in the head.  Investigators believe Dusevitch hitched a ride and may have been murdered by someone who picked her up.  Several items lay scattered beside her, including a Coca Cola can, a pack of cigarettes, and a portable record player with the initials "A. H."  Several months later, a 15-year-old hitchhiker caught a ride with a man who told her he would pay her $50.00 for sex.  When she refused and ran from the car, the man shot her in the hip.  The bullet from the teenage girl matched the bullet that killed Theresa Dusevitch. 

In June, 1975, the Daily News reported that Lynn Pyeatt, 19, of Memphis, Tennessee, "was vacationing on Okaloosa Island when somebody battered her and left her in the surf to drown.  It happened on a deserted Air Force beach in broad daylight."  (Since the murder took place on federal property, the FBI took over the investigation.)  On a crowded section of the beach, Pyeatt left her friends to go for a walk.  She ended up in an unoccupied area where she was attacked.  Her bikini was ripped off, and an attempt to rape Pyeatt occurred.  However, the perpetrator may have been scared off by passersby because he never completed the sex act.  Pyeatt, a college student who came from an affluent family, had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Her bikini was found in the water near her body. 

According to the Fort Walton Beach/Okaloosa Daily News, "Bonnie Gayle Ryther, 27, disappeared April 4, 1978.  Her body was found in a shallow grave one week later.  She had been strangled."  Sometime around midnight, Ryther left The Scene Lounge on Eglin Parkway in Fort Walton Beach.  The bartender said she was alone.  Ferry Park, where Ryther's body was located, is about five minutes away from The Scene.  Police found unidentified fingerprints in her car and on a beer can next to her body.  Those prints have been submitted to various databanks but never identified.  Her killer has escaped detection for nearly 40 years. 

All these murders were committed within a few miles of each other.   

Did four different killers murder the ladies of Niceville?  Or did a serial offender kill one or more?  Did rogue airmen from Eglin Air Force Base commit these atrocious acts?  Or was it locals or out-of-towners?  And why haven't cops got a hit on DNA and fingerprints found at several of the crime scenes? 

Time is ticking away.  Today, the killer or killers would likely be 70 or older.  It's distressing to think that one or more predators got away with these monstrous crimes.