This week is the four year anniversary of the murder of 18 year old Brittany Phillips. It's a heartbreaking case, as so many of them are.
She was a pretty, popular, college student who was living on her own in an apartment. Somehow, a man got inside and raped and strangled her and the case has yet to be solved.
Tulsa is lucky because our homicide detectives solve more killings than the national average. However, that is small comfort to the 20 or so percent that grow cold.
Families who experience murder go through a very unique kind of hell. For those whose cases don't get solved for years (or ever), they are pushed to a different level.
The lack of a killer, the lack of someone to blame, the lack of someone to take responsibility, the lack of justice, the lack of a place to put anger, all of it can eat away at a person's heart.
Brittany's mother is a perfect example. She has spent the past four years, driving around the country, her car wrapped with her murdered daughter's face, trying to get anyone and everyone to listen. She hands out flyers in freezing cold winters and broiling summers. She leaves work and runs out of money and energy and sometimes, even hope. But, she never quits. She can't. She simply can't. Finding her baby's killer is life's mission.
Such is the way for these parents, siblings and spouses who lose someone in a terrible, violent, unfair way. They yearn to go to sleep knowing the killer is behind bars, paying for sins and being kept away from other innocents.
The unsolved cases I've covered in Tulsa are not the fault of detectives. They work these cases so hard. They exhaustively pour over them. They take the victims home in their hearts and their heads. Their spouses know the names, the theories, the questions. They work tips they know won't pan out, they spend hours interviewing possible suspects and months waiting on evidence checks. They feel the pressure of that case on them, the pressure to right a wrong, to help a family, to stop a killer before there are more victims.
There are all kinds of reasons some cases get solved quickly and others take time. All of the reasons make sense and all are logical and none of them matter two wits to the families waiting for answers.
I've covered many of these families over the years, doing stories on anniversaries, trying to get the story in front of that one person who might hold the answer. It's disheartening and heart breaking.
Every once in awhile, the persistence pays off. An old case, often forgotten by the public, gets solved. It happened in the case of Victoria Knight, a young mother who was robbed and killed at a check cashing business. For years, I interviewed her mother, as she searched every face in a crowd, searching for the killer. Then, it happened. All the investigative steps police had taken, finally turned up a killer who will soon stand trial. It was a small miracle to Vicky's family.
Victims' families never give up searching, never stop pushing, never stop hoping. They can't. They are the only voice left and to stop speaking for their loved one is like saying, that person was never here and that would be unbearable.