New Life for a Cold Case

From the February 2014 edition

We’ve been thinking a lot about Mary Margaret Andrews, a 19-year-old business student, known to her friends as Peggy. Peggy was sexually assaulted and shot dead in 1962 in a crime that horrified Columbus and has tried the patience of many a detective since. The case remains open; no one has ever been arrested or charged. Assistant editor Michelle Sullivan writes about this crime (“Peggy Andrews’ Killer is Out There Somewhere,” page 56) with vivid details gleaned from interviews, police records, crime scene photographs and dozens of newspaper clippings we found about the killing.

The newspaper stories are written in a style that’s long gone—assertive, personal, even inappropriate by today’s standards. The victim, suspects and witnesses are often treated as caricatures. It’s, by degrees, sad and humorous.

Reading between those lines, we found a city upended by this crime and police feverishly seeking the killer. The stories come frequently—daily at first—and even the smallest updates are reported breathlessly for months after Peggy’s death. But after a while, there are fewer suspects, more leads that have gone nowhere.

Michelle wanted to write about Peggy because, as police say in the story, she was a true victim. Her death, by all accounts, was a random act of violence.

Another reason we chose the story is because police have tantalizing evidence against the killer—his DNA—that needs only to be paired with an identity to solve this 51-year-old mystery. Easier said than done.

As Michelle investigated the case, we began to think of Peggy as a whole person, not the black and white photos and words of the newspapers and police reports. She came to life for us in the memories of friends and family and through the detectives who are still intent on bringing someone to justice.

It’s a long shot, but retelling a story like this one does have the potential to knock loose a fresh lead. That doesn’t just go for Peggy Andrews’ case; going back to the 1950s, there are about 800 unsolved homicides in Columbus alone.

As we learned with this story, the grief of loved ones who lose friends and family to violent crime doesn’t diminish with time. The pain is still real, and they yearn for closure.