Cracking a Chilling Cold Case
True-crime author and retired Special Agent Rita Schuler solves a cold case around a young woman who has been beaten and strangled. Follow her journey to bring the killer to justice in an Evergreen Podcast Crime Capsule interview based on the book, “The Lowcountry Murder of Elaine Fogle: A Cold Case Solved.”
Rita Schuler never forgot what she saw in the darkroom at South Carolina Law Enforcement (SLED) headquarters on May 27, 1968. Back then, she was an evidence technician who eventually rose the ranks to special agent. The images of victim Elaine Fogle were chillingly gruesome, and Schuler had seen her fair share of shock and awe. The young woman had been strangled, beaten and raped in the small town of Walterboro, S.C., about 50 miles west of Charleston.
Thirty seven years later and during her retirement, former Special Agent Rita Schuler teamed up with investigator Corporal Gean Johnson. They opened and solved the cold case in a decades-long journey to bring Elaine’s killer to justice.
DNA testing proved to be what Schuler called the “hand of God.” Meanwhile, the complex investigation uncovered a deep and confusing stack of evidence: “an enormous amount of blood,” fingerprints, a shot print outside of a broken window and on Elaine’s abdomen, and peculiar nuances like missing keys to a car the criminal never stole in spite of ransacking the house where he waited for Elaine to return home from babysitting late one night.
Schuler and the team solved the case in four months in 2015 and explained ‘how’.
An analytic mind
“Next time you get a dead body in the morgue, send me. You don’t have to worry about sending anyone else.” Schuler recalls telling this to a co-worker at her first job as a registered radiologic technologist at a local hospital. This is after colleagues “tested” her by sending her to the morgue to assist the police. She was fascinated.
Schuler went on to learn how X-rays are used in the criminal justice system. “My mind just started turning,” she says. She thought: “I have to be part of this.” Forensic criminal investigation was in its infancy at the time, and Schuler was on the bleeding edge.
When she interviewed for a photography lab position at SLED, she was tested again. The team showed her horrific crime scene photos. One was a decapitated head with a bullet hold in the skull, resting in a dish pan. “I know that case,” Schuler told them, rattling off facts. The murder took place when she was eight and its headlines splattered the papers.
“This is where I’m supposed to be now,” Schuler thought of her move into the crime scene field.
Piecing together evidence
Was it a local “shade tree mechanic” who fixed cars in his backyard? (He jerry-rigged a hoist so he could lift vehicles up himself.)
Whose boot marks left bloodstains at the scene?
Why were Elaine’s tossed on the roof of the back porch?
Was the criminal someone the young women knew from town?
What would it take to solve a crime that was put to bed for 30 years? Sink into the story and Schuler’s pursuit on the Evergreen podcast Crime Capsule. In a two-part interview, listen in as she shares how years of frustrating, incremental progress resulted in a cathartic end when the murderer was finally brought to justice.
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