tv Forensic Files CNN March 21, 2015 9:30pm-10:01pm PDT
investigator of the year for standing up to the enormous peer pressure that came down on him when he said, wait a minute, guys, i don't think we've really got an arson here the mother of two young children went missing from her suburban home. a few days later, her close friend and co-worker was killed in a mysterious accident. some wondered if there was a connection. 20 years later, a body was exhumed and forensic science uncovered the truth. it's winter in ohio. charles mill lake is peaceful now, but in the summer it's full of activity, punctuated by the sounds of boats and children playing.
leroy and melody bruce remember those days fondly. >> we used to go out on the pontoon boat. and i remember laying on the front of the pontoon boat with my hands out, catching leaves and bugs and seeing who could catch the most in the water. >> melody's stepfather, larry bruce, worked as a driver for roadway trucking. judy was a stay-at-home mom. >> my mom was kind of introverted. she did not really socialize a lot because of her speech impediment. she had a hard time with people understanding what she was saying. >> the speech impediment, the result of a cleft palate, made judy self-conscious, but when she had corrective surgery, her life changed. >> well, she got her driver's license, she had a car, she got a job at mansfield general hospital in housekeeping. she was making friends there. >> judy loved her job at the hospital, but on the morning of
november 2nd, 1978, she was too sick to go to work. >> she was sick the day before. she was not feeling well, and as i came out of my bedroom from getting dressed, the door was cracked about six inches. i looked into my parents' room and i was able to see that she was laying there. >> the children walked outside to the bus stop. their father left with them to go to work. when the children got home from school, their mother wasn't there. >> my brother was already home. he asked me when i came in the door if i knew where mom was at. >> mom? >> when larry got home from work, he, too, was concerned and called police to report her missing. >> it appeared that the only thing missing from the house was mrs. bruce and the clothes she was wearing. her car was still there, her purse was still there, her prescription drugs were still
there. >> and there were no signs of forced entry or any kind of struggle. >> we called the office to see if maybe she was admitted to the hospital or if she showed up at work, and nobody had seen her. family, friends, nobody. >> after searching all night, police made an unfortunate discovery. >> the police just kind of swarmed into our house. and i was standing at the kitchen sink doing dishes, and they had said that they had found my mom, but she was dead. >> her body was discovered in a deserted campground along a creek just a few feet from a newly paved road.
she was in her pajamas and wrapped in a blanket. >> her feet were immaculately clean. that was a significant thing that led us to believe she wasn't murdered at that spot. >> during police questioning, larry bruce said that judy had planned to spend the day home in bed because she was sick. he also said he had no idea where she might have gone. the children provided larry with an alibi, confirming that he had left the house with them that morning. and larry's time sheets confirmed he had gone straight to work. >> he pretty much kept his entire schedule that day. nothing was out of order. there would have been no other time he could have committed the homicide. >> police noticed that larry's shoes had dirt on the soles, and they wondered whether the dirt was from the area around judy's body. so, larry's shoes and a dirt sample from the campsite were sent to the fbi for analysis.
the results were inconclusive. but judy's autopsy revealed several new clues and raised even more questions. in small business you have to work hard, know your numbers, and stay focused. i was determined to create new york city's first self-serve frozen yogurt franchise. and now you have 42 locations. the more i put into my business the more i get out of it. like 5x your rewards when you make select business purchases
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judy bruce's body was sent to the cuyahoga county coroner for an autopsy. the medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. >> the final coroner's report indicated cause of death was asphyxiation. she was actually smothered to death. >> the time of death is an inexact science but was estimated to be either shortly before or within a few hours after larry and the children left the house. the autopsy also revealed that judy's bladder was empty. >> when you consider a person who is dying of suffocation, when they die that way, their bladder evacuates involuntarily. >> investigators found no significant urine sample near judy's body in the park.
this was another indication she was killed elsewhere. interestingly, judy's children told police their father had complained about some soiled bed sheets shortly after judy disappeared. >> i can remember him, came around and threw in a bed sheet into the trash. you know, and i was, you know, why are you burning that? he's like, the dog urinated on it. >> on hearing this news, police immediately confiscated what remained of the bedding from the master bedroom. >> there was some bloodstaining on one of the pillowcases, and there were some unexplained stains on other blankets on the bed. >> but the forensic tests at the time were unable to identify whose blood and urine it was. >> back then, the technology did not exist to detect whether it would have been animal, human.
the only technology we had was to get a type of blood. in fact, you couldn't even get the blood type because the sample was so small. >> in the trunk of larry's car investigators found some oak leaves but little else. >> they didn't have a lot of evidence, and what little evidence they did have, forensic science hadn't come a long way toward making it useful. >> just a few days later, there was another death in mansfield. one of judy's co-workers, james isaac, was killed in a traffic accident, and larry bruce made a startling revelation. he told police that isaac was having an affair with his wife and accused isaac of killing judy and then he may have killed himself. >> bruce implied isaac was somehow responsible for judy's death and killed himself due to his guilt over it.
>> but no one could corroborate larry's claims, and the primary focus continued to be on larry bruce. >> we ultimately made the decision not to press for the indictment at that time because everything we had at that time was circumstantial. >> time passed, and judy bruce's murder slowly drifted to the bottom of the unsolved case file. >> i never forgot the case. i would drive by their residence and we would even drive by roadway trucking. i remember an alarm went off talking to a dispatcher at the roadway trucking. i said, what did larry ever say about this case? because he worked there for several years after the homicide. and the feedback i would get was that he was the kind of guy that was bragging about it. he'd committed the perfect crime. he got away with it.
>> about a year after judy's murder, larry bruce got married again, and the couple continued to live in the house in mansfield. for the next 20 years, the case went unsolved until a cold case unit delved deeper into the death of judy bruce. it'the setting is perfect.ey. but then erectile dysfunction happens again.
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by the year 2000, police in mansfield, ohio, had a total of 17 unsolved murder cases in their files, and local officials started to grow impatient. so, prosecutors did what other communities were starting to do. >> we approached the county commissioners for $25,000 to set up a cold homicide unit to look at cases that were unsolved. >> the first case they reviewed was the murder of judy bruce, which by this time had gone unsolved for more than 20 years. some in law enforcement suspected her husband, larry, had committed the crime, but they couldn't prove it. so, the new cold case unit began their investigates with the oak leaves found 20 years earlier in the trunk of larry bruce's car. >> so, it was our theory that when he opened the trunk to take the body out, some of those oak leaves fell into the trunk of his cadillac.
>> and information presented in this very television series suggested a new way to test them. >> i was watching one night, and they had a story about out west in arizona had done a plant dna case. >> the crux of that investigation was a seed pod found in a suspect's truck, which was later matched with plant dna to the palo verde tree next to the victim's body. ryan bolt contacted the scientist who pioneered plant dna analysis and asked them to test the oak leaf found in larry's trunk to determine if it came from the oak tree near judy's body. unfortunately, too many years had passed and scientists were unable to extract any dna from the leaf. but to their credit, police didn't give up. investigators decided to retest the stains on the bedding from
judy bruce's bedroom. dna analysis, which didn't exist in 1978, determined that they were semen. one stain matched larry bruce's dna, judy's husband. the other did not. when judy was murdered, larry claimed that judy was having an affair with a co-worker, james isaac, who died in a suspicious traffic accident days after judy's death. to see if it was isaac's dna on the bedding, investigators obtained a court order allowing them to exhume james isaac's body. >> when the dna profile from isaac was compared with the unidentified semen on the electric blanket, it was found to be not a match. so, the semen on the electric blanket remains unidentified. >> investigators found no evidence that judy bruce and james isaac were anything more than acquaintances.
next, investigators asked dick bisbing, senior research microscopist at mccrone associates, to analyze the dirt on the bottom of larry bruce's shoes, which were still in evidence. to do this, bisbing used a polarized light microscope. >> it's like looking through polarized sunglasses. and by manipulating the light, we can see different optical properties, different optical features of each of these mineral grains. their appearance, their color, their optical properties all help us identify the type of mineral. >> the dirt on larry's shoes did not match the samples of dirt around judy's body. but the polarized light revealed an important, previously undetected clue -- these brightly colored minerals. >> the soil from the shoes contained calcite, which is calcium carbonate, could be from
limestone, and that type of material is often used in roadways, road beds. >> near judy's body was a roadway that had been paved with new limestone gravel just days before her body was dumped there. this was the first potential link between larry bruce and where judy's body was found. next, investigators sent the trunk liner from larry's cadillac and the blanket judy had been wrapped in to the cuyahoga county coroner's office for forensic analysis. >> we were trying to find any piece of evidence we could that would put mrs. bruce's body or the moving pad that she was wrapped in into the trunk of bruce's car or inside his car in any fashion. >> forensic scientist curtiss jones used tape to collect any
loose fibers from the blanket that covered judy's body. using a comparison microscope, jones compared the fibers to see if they were similar. >> the three fibers, three different fiber types that made up the trunk liner, were also found on the moving blanket. >> but were the fibers in larry's trunk an exact match to the fibers from the blanket covering judy's body? to find out, jones used fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, a technology not available in 1978. and the result, the three fibers from the blanket were synthetic rayon, and the three fibers found in the trunk were also synthetic rayon. >> the evidence doesn't lie. in cases there's both sides of the story, but the only real size that doesn't ever lie is the evidence.
>> more than two decades after judy's death, larry bruce was arrested and charged with her murder. and prosecutors also learned that judy was keeping a dark secret, something that larry bruce did not want to come to light. (mom) when our little girl was born, we got a subaru. it's where she said her first word. (little girl) no! saw her first day of school. (little girl) bye bye! made a best friend forever. the back seat of my subaru is where she grew up. what? (announcer) the 2015 subaru forester (girl) what? (announcer) built to be there for your family. love. it's what makes a subaru, a subaru.
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23 years after judy bruce's death, her husband, larry, went on trial for murder. the prosecutor's first witness was the couple's son, leroy. on the morning of his mother's death, he recalled going into his parents' bedroom to get a permission slip signed for school. >> i stood there as he signed that permission slip. there was basically no movement. you know, i'm sure mom would have at least came to, see what was going on. >> prosecutors believed judy was already dead. after larry got the children off to school, prosecutors say larry wrapped judy's body in a blanket and put it in the trunk of his car. as he left for work, he waved to the children at the bus stop, hoping they would be his alibi.
then he went directly to work to keep his usual schedule. but after work, he stopped by the deserted camp and dumped his wife's body. the synthetic rayon fibers from larry's trunk liner were transferred to the blanket covering judy's body. and larry's shoes picked up the calcite particles from the newly paved limestone, where they were discovered 20 years later by alert forensic scientists. >> the prosecutors were able to put up a good faith effort and tell them this is everything we know using modern forensics about the evidence that we do have remaining to us. and we pulled out all the stops and here's what we know. >> prosecutor maier saved his most compelling witness for last. >> from the age of 5 until i was 14, larry was sexually molesting me.
if i wanted to go do something, he would tell me i would have to do something for him first. >> melody was larry's stepdaughter. she also presented evidence that her mother knew what was going on and that larry had the motive to silence her. >> when she was a little girl, before her mother was murdered, she was being molested by her father in a bedroom. by chance, her mother, judy bruce, came into the bedroom. she witnessed the molestation. she was furious with her husband, larry bruce. a vicious argument ensued immediately after that, very loud, profanities. and then the defendant got so worked up, larry bruce, that he took a swing at his wife and missed her and punched the wall and broke a bone in his arm. >> the defense presented no witnesses, arguing that the prosecution hasn't proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. >> look at every angle of this,
and you will see that it's an entirely circumstantial case. >> the jury deliberated for less than two hours. >> we, the jury, find the defendant, larry bruce, guilty of the crime of murder. >> just -- just can't believe it's all happening. >> larry bruce was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. >> i was glad that he was being convicted, but in the same time, i didn't want to be there. i didn't want to have to deal with it. i didn't want to face the reality that this really did happen. >> after more than 20 years, old-fashioned police work and modern forensic science finally brought justice for judy bruce's family. >> the forensic evidence was very important to this case because without it, it's very likely that the jury would have acquitted the defendant. >> if i could get into a time
machine and go back to 1978 and tell those investigating officers the things that would be available today, i think it would be beyond their imagination. what can a skull tell you about a person's life? and can their bones reveal how they died? a forensic artist, an anthropologist, and a global positioning satellite would tell more about this victim than anyone could ever imagine. >> yellow house canyon is 200 acres of very rough terrain just outside the city limits of lubbock, texas. in 1870, it's where the comanche indians exchanged their prisoners for horses.