Fairbanks detective pursues new clues in 1983 cold case

Merideth plans to use new techniques that didn't exist 26 years ago

Posted: Monday, February 08, 2010

FAIRBANKS - In the 26 years since two former Missouri residents were stabbed to death at an east Fairbanks apartment, no one has been charged for the crime. Fairbanks Police Detective Peyton Merideth hopes to change that.

The detective said he is using crime-solving techniques that didn't exist in the fall of 1983 when a maintenance worker found the bodies of Kathy Morris and Jerry Elrod Jr..

Elrod, 21, had been stabbed in the back and chest, according to a Fairbanks Daily News-Miner story. Morris, 23, was stabbed in the back.

A violent argument took place at the apartment, where there were no signs of forced entry. Authorities - then and now - believe the killer was probably someone they knew.

"Cold case homicides are never closed," Merideth said. "They are always open. It's hard to find the time to work on them. They take a lot of dedication and man hours."

Merideth is guarded about the details of his investigation and won't mention any suspects. He thinks a lack of physical evidence is what held up investigators who came before him. Merideth is tight-lipped about whether that has changed.

He said he needs the public's help to bring the killer to justice.

Authorities conducted dozens of interviews in the weeks after the killings, which happened on Oct. 1, 1983.

Merideth, who has been working on the case since 2005, said he digitized all of the files. He is looking to conduct interviews of his own.

The detective wants to talk to anyone who might have known Morris, Elrod or Charles Cosper Jr., a man who spent time with the couple hours before they were killed.

Also, anyone who remembers picking up a hitchhiker on the Richardson Highway early on the morning of Oct. 1, 1983, is asked to call the Fairbanks Police Department.

Finally, police are looking to reconnect with someone who contacted them about the case in the early 1990s. The person reportedly spoke to a police officer at length.

"I don't want to say what they provided," Merideth said. "I'd like to have them re-contact me. We're hoping to put some pieces of the puzzle together."

Morris arrived in Alaska in April 1983 and eventually got a job at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, according to family and police.

At the time of her killing, she was estranged from her husband, John Morris, who was serving in the U.S. Army. She had a 3-year-old son from a prior relationship. Morris had been married and divorced multiple times.

Kathy Morris' sister, Mona Beardslee, described her as a caring person who remembered special occasions. The sisters, both adopted, grew up on a cattle and horse ranch south of Kansas City, Mo.

Morris enjoyed riding horses and cooking, Beardslee said.

"She was very good to people," Beardslee said from her home in Kernersville, N.C. "She always remembered birthdays."

Morris liked Alaska and enjoyed seeing the sights.

"She sent me a letter from up there," Beardslee said. "It was probably a page and a half letter. She listed the prices of everything. She really thought Fairbanks was beautiful. She went on and on about how pretty the country was."

After Morris separated from her husband, weeks before her fatal stabbing, her parents came to Alaska and brought her young son, Justin, back to Missouri, according to relatives and police.

Justin Bell was raised by loving grandparents, he said, but no one ever gave him the full story of what happened to his mom. He owns no pictures of her.

"I have few memories of her," Bell said from his home in Harrisonville, Mo. "It was kind of a hush-hush deal in my family. It really hurt my grandma a lot."

Bell remembers a man in his mother's life had hurt him but he doesn't know who. Bell had always assumed the same man who hurt him killed his mom but he's not sure.

Bell struggled with personal demons for many years and made peace with the past after he started reading the Bible, he said.

"For a long time in my life, it was a dark secret," Bell said. "I asked Jesus into my heart, and I have been very blessed since.

"I do want justice," he said. "Who wouldn't?"

Eielson Air Force Base was Elrod's first duty station after joining the Air Force, his mother said. He was assigned to a communications squadron in 1982.

Sue Elrod described her son as sociable, helpful and intelligent.

If someone were on the side of a road with a broken-down vehicle, Jerry Elrod was the sort of person to stop and offer help.

Elrod was the second of four children and the oldest son. He was named after his father.

Tall, dark and handsome, he belonged to the honor guard on Eielson Air Force Base, where he also started a drill team, his mother said. He aspired to get his pilot's license and had "gobs of friends."

Elrod was interested in painting and painted an Alaska landscape.

"He was a sweetheart," his mother said. "We were very proud. If he would have lived, he sure would have done well in life."

Elrod had never been married. The closest he came was a brief engagement to a high school sweetheart, which dissolved after he joined the Air Force, his mother said.

He met Morris at Rock Island, a night club that has long been closed, a few weeks before the killings, according to police.

The pair had something in common: Both were raised in Missouri.

Sue Elrod said she didn't know her son was dating Morris until after he had been stabbed to death.

Why someone would want to kill Jerry has always been a mystery to the Elrod family. His parents keep his memory alive by displaying pictures and some of his old sports equipment in their den.

"Our whole family is spiritual," Sue Elrod said. "We just kind of committed it to the Lord. He knows who did it."



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