Sapulpa's only ' Cold Case' solved

Wednesday, February 8th 2006, 10:21 am
By: News On 6

The Sapulpa Police Department is close to closing its only cold case homicide. Sapulpa investigators say the Rhonda Hardway murder case had them stumped for 19 years.

In August of 1986, some fishermen found her body near Sahoma lake outside of Sapulpa.

News on 6 anchor Tami Marler says officers are looking into new twists in the cold case investigation.

It only took Sapulpa Police a couple of months to exhaust their leads in Rhonda Hardway's murder. Investigators thought the case had gone freezing cold. In August of 1986, people searching for a good fishing spot on Sahoma Lake, came across a grisly find. 27 year-old Rhonda Hardway, lying face-down in a field. She'd been beaten and shot to death.

Sapulpa detectives and Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation investigators collected blood and tissue evidence at the scene, then followed a dwindling number of leads. "The department was not getting a lot of information about this crime.” Sapulpa's police chief remembers it well. Jim Wall led the 1986 investigation. "Probably after 2-to-3 months we followed up on every lead that developed and ran into nothing but dead ends. Almost 20 years later, the crime scene is completely grown over. Another search of the area turned up no additional evidence. If it weren't for an unexpected break in the case, it might never have been solved. You know, From 1986 til he came forward, there weren't any leads at all."

Sgt. Brett Henson is leading the re-opened investigation after a man came forward that was never even on the radar. "He disclosed that he was involved. He also implicated someone else. He just went through all the details of the crime."

He may have gotten away with it, but after nearly-20 years, a Sapulpan, 40 year-old John Pingleton confessed. "He told me that he wanted to get his life straight. God told him to you know, come forward and get it out if he wanted to get you know, right." Police went back to the crime scene, where they searched for the gun Pingleton said he used to kill Hardway. Investigators were convinced he had to've been there. "There was details that he gave us that only the person there would have known. Just very little things that stuck out to us that he remembered. We had no doubt he was there."

A man's attack of conscience helped Sapulpa Police close an unsolvable case. Police found the man Pingleton said helped him kill Rhonda Hardway and arrested him on outstanding warrants. He denies any involvement, but investigators have already found inconsistencies in his story.

They've collected a DNA sample and OSBI investigators are comparing it with evidence found 20 years ago. They're hoping the state crime lab will put a rush on their case.