tv Forensic Files CNN June 13, 2015 10:00pm-10:31pm PDT
just taken such a short time in life here. it's tragic. it's tragic. if we can help find the truth injustice in that that's what we're here for. -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com up next three women are in florida on their first real vacation. >> these women thought, this is great. we're seeing tampa bay. >> the evidence suggests they took a boat ride, and then disappeared. but there was little else to go on. >> there are hundreds if not thousands of miles to look over to find a piece of evidence. >> hairs, fibers, any fingerprints would have been washed away. >> but a public billboard turned citizens into investigators. >> i thought it was an excellent idea, brilliant. ♪ on a warm, june morning in tampa, florida, authorities
discovered the bodies of three women floating in tampa bay. >> they knew that there was foul play because the women were tied up and had bricks around them. >> the victims had their mouths taped shut, were naked from the waist down and had been bound with yellow rope. >> it was horrible. it was terrible. it was beyond comprehension to think anyone could do what was done to those girls. >> the first question facing investigators was the identity of these three women. >> there was no i.d. so we weren't able to identify who these individuals were, where they came from and who they might have had contact with prior to this event. >> although each victim was tied to a 30-pound concrete block decomposition created gases that lifted both the bodies and concrete blocks to the surface. >> the water temperature was
hot. had this occurred in much colder temperatures, much colder water, one cinder block might have held them under the surface. you would have to do a lot of study on that to figure that out. >> the medical examiner estimated the bodies had been in the water for at least three days. to pinpoint where the victims were put in the water investigators asked the university of south florida to analyze the currents for that time period. >> and they felt they were thrown out into the center of the bay somewhere, wasn't off of a bridge, was not off of any shoreline. >> after media outlets picked up the story, the manager of a local hotel called police. he said a woman and her two daughters checked into his hotel three days earlier. he said he hadn't seen them after that. but their belongings were still there. >> there was no evidence that
anyone had been in the room. the beds were never ruffled. the towels were never wet. everything was in the same place. >> the room was registered to joan rogers and her two daughters. police contacted joan's husband hal rogers a dairy farmer in ohio. >> the sheriff got a hold of me, and we had to get dental records to identify them. >> dental records confirmed that the victims were 36-year-old joan rogers, 17-year-old michele and 14-year-old christie. the autopsy confirmed everyone's worst fears. water was found in the victims' lungs which meant they were thrown into the ocean while they were still alive. to investigators this wasn't just murder.
it was an execution. >> i think he left their eyes uncovered because he wanted each one of them to see what was happening to the other one. i think he wanted to see the fear that was in their eyes as he was doing what he was doing with them. just as about as perverted as you can get. >> but who wanted to murder three tourists and dump their bodies in tampa bay? fresher dentures, for the ♪best first impression. love loud, live loud, polident. ♪ fresher dentures... ...for those breathless moments. hug loud, live loud, polident.
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when joan rogers and her daughters drove to florida for a week of sightseeing, joan's husband, hal, the girls' father decided to stay behind. >> he had a dairy farm he was running at the time. that's a 365-day-a-year job. >> but even though his family didn't return home as planned, hal rogers waited three days to contact police. >> he seemed somewhat cold to me. very cold. here's a person who just lost his entire family, not just one, but three people. and there was no emotion.
>> hal told police he didn't have time to be emotional. he had a farm to run. >> i just did what i needed to do to function and didn't worry about nothing else. >> investigators tracked hal's whereabouts for the day of the murders. fortunately for hal he didn't like to cook for himself so he ate his meals at local restaurants and numerous witnesses provided his alibi. >> people here knew him because i had been to breakfast that morning and that evening for dinner. >> at the autopsies, the medical examiner discovered the seawater had eliminated crucial forensic evidence. >> with the bodies being submerged in the water for the length of time that they were, any trace evidence, hairs, fibers, any fingerprints would have been washed away essentially by the water. >> it was impossible to say for certain if the victims had been sexually assaulted.
>> we had nothing to go on as far as forensic evidence to amount to anything. >> police were on the lookout for joan rogers' car, and they found it at a public boat launch. it was one mile away from the rogers' hotel. 25 miles away from where their bodies were recovered. inside the car were two handwritten notes. on one were directions to the hotel. the other on hotel stationary contained directions to the boat launch. the writing samples were sent to a forensic document examiner for analysis. >> the handwriting that appeared on the days inn letterhead was written by joan rogers, and we knew that because we received quite a bit of her handwriting for comparison. >> the handwriting on the other note, the one with directions to the rogers' hotel, was distinctive. >> i determined that the
handwriting on the brochure was not written by the mother or either of her daughters. >> in the word courtney part of the hotel's address the "t" was capitalized in the middle of the word. >> this is unusual. not only because it's a capital letter but because of the special quality of the small "r" to the tall "t." >> and the letter "y" was written in a way that teresa stubbs had never seen before. >> the letter "y" was written four times, each time written differently. a slight variation but different. that was important. >> so they are working it reeling hard. we got to find who wrote this note. we do that we find the killer. >> besides the handwriting the note held one other clue. next to the directions to the boat launch, joan rogers had written the phrase blue with wht.
>> we just surmised they were meaning something that was blue and white. if you're going a boat ramp what would you be meeting that's blue and white? it would be a boat. >> but there were no boats docked at the launch. it's an area where anyone residents or tourists can put their boat in the water for a day of boating. then police got a break. a tipster told them about a local man who was running an unlicensed business from this boat launch, offering tourists sunset cruises on the bay. his name was jason wilcox, and he owned a blue and white boat. a background check revealed wilcox had a criminal record and had served time for aggravated assault. he lived just five miles from the boat launch. >> on his property where his boat was he had some concrete blocks. >> wilcox denied any involvement
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two weeks before the murders of joan rogers and her two daughters, homicide investigators learned of a similar crime involving a 24-year-old canadian tourist and a man in a blue and white boat. >> she's a tourist, and he offers her a ride on the bay, and she goes wow, great. >> once they were out on the water, where no one could see them, the man said he would kill her if she didn't have sex with him. he also told her there were sharks in the water in case she was thinking of trying to swim to shore. >> she says, please, please don't do anything to me i'm a virgin. she said he got very excited about it. he rapes her and he told her before he raped her it's not worth about getting murdered over a sexual assault. and he apparently had ropes on the boat just as he did with the rogers family. >> afterwards, the man got
physically ill. >> was it a matter of he was so excited he was physiologically overcome or was it that he was so appalled by his act that he got sick? >> inexplicably, the man waited until dark, drew close to shore and allowed the young woman to swim to safety. investigators were fairly certain it was the same man who murdered the rogers family. >> the parallels were pretty eerie. >> unfortunately, the victim took a shower before going to police headquarters to report the crime so no dna was recovered. but her description of the man enabled police to create this composite sketch which was distributed to the local media. the victim said jason wilcox was
not the man who assaulted her. and wilcox was also eliminated as a suspect in the rogers case. >> in the end he was given a polygraph test and cleared on all that and actually had some alibis to where he was at the time. >> the composite sketch prompted hundreds of leads, all of which had to be followed up. the description of a blue and white boat also generated plenty of hits. >> we had close to 800 men that were called in, a lot of them had to do with blue and white boats. so that was a big, big job to eliminate all of these persons of interest that were called in to us. >> after those leads turned out to be dead ends, investigators tried something else. they used five area billboards to display the sample of what they believed was the killer's handwriting. >> that was an unusual tactic, and i believe they did it
because they no place else to go. >> that's when joann steffey saw the billboard on the side of the tampa highway and she recognized the handwriting. it looked like the handwriting of a contractor she knew. oba chandler. >> when i first initially met mr. chandler he came across as not telling the truth and he wouldn't look you in the eye. and he just seemed shifty. >> joann rushed home and found the handwritten receipt for some work chandler had done for her. >> as i was looking at it, my knees actually buckled from the sheer shock of the proof now to me that this was the man they've been looking for all this time. >> chandler's handwritten receipt was compared to the handwritten note found in joan rogers' car. >> i immediately saw the capital "t" repeatedly throughout his writing.
my heart started racing. i found all the "ys" and all the variations on the brochure. within minutes i knew i found the writer. >> oba chandler was 43 years old and ran a construction business. he was married and had eight children by seven different women. he also had a criminal record dating back to his teens that included two sexual assaults. but what was most telling was where chandler lived. >> oba chandler's residence was on a canal that was probably within a half a mile, a mile of where the boat ramp where the victims' vehicle was found. >> investigators tracked down ship to shore phone records which are recorded for all boats making calls while on the water. >> these records actually put oba chandler out on the water on not only on the day of the rape
but also the day of the homicide. >> chandler denied any involvement in the murders. but once he was in custody police brought in one person who could possibly identify him. the canadian tourist who had been raped by a man in a blue and white boat. >> that's him. >> she picked his photograph and reacted visibly as soon as that photograph was shown, and she indicated that she would really like to see him live in a lineup to be absolutely certain. >> look carefully. >> this resulted in another positive identification. but just as investigators went to inspect chandler's boat they discovered he had sold it, most likely to get rid of potential evidence. prosecutors knew if they were going to get a murder conviction, they would need more evidence than just handwriting.
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but investigators wondered if there was anything else on the brochure that would guarantee a conviction. >> the brochure was processed with a chemical called ninhydrin, a chemical that reacts with amino acids found in fingerprint residue. >> on the brochure were numerous fingerprints and one palmprint. >> one of the victims was identified as being the source of some of those impressions. but there were also unidentified prints on that brochure. >> the best unidentified print was a high quality right palmprint. when chandler's right palmprint was compared to the palmprint on the brochure found in the victim's car, there was no doubt. >> that not only linked our handwriting to the brochure but also a palmprint. and you don't get much better than that.
>> oba chandler was charged with three counts of kidnapping and first-degree murder. investigators believe chandler met joan rogers at a gas station where joan may have asked him for directions to their hotel. chandler wrote them on her map, leaving behind a handwriting sample and his palmprint. that's when chandler may have offered to give them a sunset cruise on his boat, an offered the girls accepted. chandler gave joan directions to the boat launch, and when she wrote them, she also jotted down a vital clue. blue with wht. later that night chandler took them out on the water where they were at his mercy.
the women couldn't swim so there was no way they could have made to it shore safely. they had no option but to comply. they were bound and gagged and presumably sexually assaulted. later, he tied each one of them to a concrete block and threw them overboard. chandler left an electronic trail when he called his wife on the ship to shore radio to tell her his boat had engine trouble and that he would be late for dinner. chandler's other mistake was
leaving his handwriting and palmprint behind. oba chandler was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. >> oba chandler, you have not only forfeited your right to live among us under the laws of the state of florida, you have forfeited your right to live at all. mr. chandler, may god have mercy on your soul. >> the bold decision to put the handwriting evidence on billboards for the entire city to see made the difference in this case. >> i thought it was an excellent idea. brilliant. because detectives can only work on leads that they receive and when they exhausted every possible lead they have that's when it becomes necessary to try something different and let the public in. >> the investigators were up against a dead end. they didn't know what to do and they said what do we have to
lose by putting up this billboard. and, yeah, it was a gamble but it was a gamble that certainly paid off. >> i think the singular break in the case came with the identification of the handwriting. that was his ultimate undoing. up next -- it was an ambush. >> we have a call for four people dead. >> oh, my god. >> but the scene yields few clues and the motive's unclear. >> this case was tough. nothing was jumping out at us in the beginning. >> until a neighbor comes forward with a possible lead. >> they see a young man and a young woman just walking down the sidewalk, dressed in all black. >> would it be enough? >> the families wanted answers. they deserved answers. >> what amazed me is it stayed a secret as long as it did. ♪ clear lake, texas, is a mecca for aerospace