Monday, October 24, 2011
In 1975, the murder of Marcia Trimble (1965 – 1975) disturbed the people of Nashville, Tennessee. Trimble was a nine-year-old girl who disappeared on February 25, 1975 while delivering Girl Scout cookies in her neighborhood. She was found to have been raped and murdered near her family's Green Hills home. The case captured people's attention because of the age of the girl and the fact her body was discovered on Easter Sunday, more than a month after her disappearance. The Nashville community was shocked at the nature of the crime compared to the low crime rate of her neighborhood. The case was unsolved for more than 30 years. One suspect was charged in 1979 but released in 1980 for lack of evidence. In 2008 Jerome Sydney Barrett was charged with the assault and murder. On July 18, 2009, a jury convicted 62-year-old Jerome Barrett of two counts of second-degree murder. Barrett was sentenced to 44 years in prison.
Marcia Trimble disappeared after going out to deliver Girl Scout cookies in her neighborhood. When her body was discovered on Easter Sunday more than a month later, it was found she had been sexually assaulted before death. Investigators scoured her neighborhood, believing it likely she had been attacked by someone local. The case was investigated by local and state police. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was also called in because of the possibility of kidnapping.
In the summer of 1979, police arrested neighborhood young man Jeffrey Womack, aged 15 at the time of Trimble's murder, for his suspected involvement with the case. Womack had reportedly boasted to friends that he had raped and murdered Trimble. In addition, he had reportedly been seen with Trimble the day she disappeared. Womack told an undercover investigator seemingly incriminating details about the murder. Upon interrogation, Womack passed two polygraph tests. In 1980 the case against Womack was dropped due to lack of evidence and because DNA evidence excluded him. Some investigators continued to believe he was a viable suspect.
DNA samples were taken from semen collected from Trimble's body. The DNA was stored improperly and deteriorated over time. The DNA sample can be used to exclude suspects, but an exact match cannot be confirmed due to sample deterioration. Police initially collected DNA samples from 96 suspects, including Womack. The 96 samples were each ruled out as matches for the DNA found with Trimble's body.
The fact that the victim was a child, and that the crime took place in an affluent neighborhood at a time where people had felt their children were safe in daily life, were elements that disturbed residents. The delay in finding and recovering the girl's body also disturbed people. National investigators from the FBI were brought in to assist the investigation.
After Womack's release in 1980, residents continued to be haunted by the unsolved crime. Each year Nashville media highlighted the story on the anniversaries of Trimble's disappearance and the discovery of her body. The case marked a time of great change in how news was covered by local media, as well as the emerging importance of DNA evidence (not thoroughly understood in early years). It also marked some people's sense that their feeling of safety had ended, a feeling related to the extraordinary nature of the crime, rather than a real change in local crime rates.
Metro Nashville Police Captain Mickey Miller commented on the case:
In that moment, Nashville lost its innocence. Our city has never been, and never will be, the same again. Every man, woman and child knew that if something that horrific could happen to that little girl, it could happen to anyone.
Investigators said they believed more than one person's semen was found inside the victim's body. Semen also was found on Marcia's clothes. Investigators believed Marcia was lured into the garage and killed there. Police had initially looked in the garage during their search and did not find her. The garage was 150 yards from Marcia's home. Her body was found fully clothed next to bags of fertilizer, and despite having been dead almost a month, there was little decomposition due to being in a cool, dry environment. The cause of death was determined to be strangulation as Marcia had a broken hyoid bone.
Police found it difficult to determine how many people were involved in the crime. They believed the perpetrator was a juvenile and someone Marcia knew. Dirt found on her shoe was mainly on the sole, indicating that she'd walked into the garage, as opposed to being dragged. But investigators did not know whether more than one male was involved. Semen was found on the girl's blouse and pants, but not her underwear. It was also in her vagina, but there were no signs of rape or penetration. Investigators thus believed Marcia's attacker was either an adolescent boy or else a man with a very small penis. DNA tests seemed to indicate semen of up to four different males, but one investigator doubted the samples because the fluids were poorly preserved. "I'm not confident in the DNA sample that we've got," Nashville homicide detective Tommy Jacobs said.
In 2001 a local paper interviewed Miller, former homicide detective Tommy Jacobs of the Nashville Police, and former FBI agent Richard Knudsen about the still unsolved Trimble case. Each had different theories about what happened on the evening Trimble disappeared.
Captain Miller said that while Trimble was killed in the garage where she was found, that may not have been where she was sexually assaulted. Miller thought that Trimble might have been sexually assaulted at a tree nursery which became part of the investigation. Citing DNA evidence, he also believed that she was sexually assaulted by up to three boys.
Jacobs was not sure that Trimble left her home to deliver cookies to Maxwell. He suggested she might have been planning to meet up with Womack. Jacobs said he thought that someone Marcia knew lured her into the garage. He did not know if it was Womack or just an "adolescent teenager with his hormones blitzing." "The suspect just raped someone. It was probably a new experience for him, and it was a new experience for Marcia. It was a tense situation. Marcia screamed. I don't think the perpetrator wanted to kill her. I think he wanted to gain control of her and make her be quiet." In contrast to Miller, his former boss, Jacobs did not believe that Trimble was sexually assaulted by more than one person.
The FBI's Knudsen posed a different theory. He said that Marcia Trimble had walked to Marie Maxwell's home as the woman was pulling into her driveway. Given the timing, Trimble could not have known that Maxwell was returning home unless someone had called to tell her. Just minutes earlier, Maxwell parked her car in front of a neighbor's driveway to ask a quick question. The house was across the street from the Womack and Morgan homes. If Jeffrey Womack was home during that time, or if he was at Peggy Morgan's house, he could have seen Maxwell's car and called Trimble. Knudsen placed Womack at the driveway with Trimble.
The three investigators' theories varied widely but they concluded that whoever killed Marcia most likely was a juvenile who lived in the neighborhood.
On June 6, 2008, a Davidson County Grand Jury indicted 60-year-old Jerome Sydney Barrett, charging him with first-degree murder and felony in the case of Marcia Trimble. By then Barrett had been convicted and indicted for other assaults against women and children. At the time of Trimble's murder, Barrett had been working in her neighborhood. Barrett, 62, first took responsibility for the 1975 murder during a private conversation on the rooftop of the Davidson County Criminal Justice Center. During questioning, "He said he did not rape her. He killed her," "He said his DNA was on her, but not in her." Barrett again claimed to have killed Trimble immediately after an altercation with another inmate at the jail. It was during this same altercation, the convict says, that Barrett claimed to have killed "four blue-eyed bitches."
Journalists revealed that for more than a decade, investigators had concealed the fact that DNA evidence excluded as potential suspects Jeffrey Womack, March Egerton and numerous other neighbors of Marcia Trimble. A retired police detective admitted that the men were excluded and that they had not been told of the fact. In the early years of the investigation, use of DNA evidence was new, and all investigators did not thoroughly understand its implications. Investigators were not sure the DNA evidence was conclusive for excluding suspects. For instance, for years some investigators continued to tell reporters that they believed Womack or Egerton was implicated after DNA evidence demonstrated that neither could have been.In addition, detectives admitted to careless handling of Marcia's body, stating that they simply cut her blouse and pants off right there in the shed without wearing protective gloves.
Trimble's murder in 1975 had closely followed that of a young woman student.
February 2, 1975: Vanderbilt University student Sarah Des Prez was murdered near the university, a location close to the Nashville neighborhood of Green Hills, where the Trimble family lived and Marcia Trimble was murdered.
February 17, 1975: A Belmont University student was raped in Nashville, Tennessee. Jerome Sydney Barrett was arrested in March 1975 in connection with this crime, indicted, and convicted of it a year later. He was jailed from March 12, 1975 until after Trimble's body was found.
February 25, 1975: Marcia Trimble disappeared from her Green Hills neighborhood in Nashville. Her body was found 33 days later near her home. It was determined she was sexually assaulted and had died the day she disappeared.
November 20, 2007, Nashville Police arrested Jerome Sydney Barrett on charges of sexual assault and murder in the case of Sarah Des Prez, a Vanderbilt student killed about three weeks before Marcia Trimble. Metro's Cold Case Unit was able to apply new DNA-analysis techniques to evidence from the February 1975 Des Prez murder to bring charges against Barrett. At the announcement of the arrest of Barrett, police suggested that he may have been linked to the murder of Marcia Trimble. The local police released information that the timeline of Jerome Barrett's whereabouts and crimes during the period of Trimble's murder placed the man under increased scrutiny.
On December 3, 2007, Nashville television stations reported that DNA recovered from the Trimble crime scene matched that of Jerome Sydney Barrett. "Advances in DNA testing enabled a match between crime-scene evidence and Jerome Sydney Barrett, a 60-year-old Memphis man with a criminal record of sexual assaults on both grown women and children."