Indy Unsolved: Trio of Kokomo killings connected to same suspect

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KOKOMO, Ind. (Oct. 30, 2015)-- More than a decade ago, Kokomo and Howard County experienced a spasm of violence that to this day defies investigative resolution and prosecution.

Indy Unsolved is seeking answers to a trio of brutal killings that remain officially open without definitive answers.

Three people were murdered by similar means and while detectives have some theories, no one has ever been arrested or convicted for the killings, though one man potentially was in all the right places at the wrong time.

“Robert Roe was killed in Center, Indiana, and he was killed on July 12, 2004,” said Dale Seward, a private investigator, as he examined a map of Howard County with black dots showing the locations of the three murders, “and then Janet Yeary was killed in northern Kokomo just around the corner from Theresa Cooper and she was found on November 26, 2004.”

One of Cooper’s sisters hired Seward to probe a case that has stymied Kokomo police.

“All three victims were brutally beaten and just stabbed and everything else,” said Seward.

Robert Roe was the first.

The owner of a fast-oil change shop, he was known in his hometown of Center south and east of the Kokomo city limits.

“He owned a business and he knew lots and lots of people and he was very social and he was very big hearted,” said Shirley Howell, a cousin. “Bob would give you the shirt off his back, anybody who needed anything, he was the first person to step up and say, ‘I will help you.’

“He had gorgeous diamond rings and he liked his jewelry,” said Howell. “A lot of bling. That’s a Roe trait.”

Investigators said Roe was not shy about the attention he lavished on women, yet they don’t know why someone entered his house a week after Independence Day in 2004, leaving signs of a bloody struggle behind.

They do know some of his custom-made jewelry was missing and never turned up at a pawn shop or anywhere else.

“He would carry large sums of money on him which at times, I think, there were friends who would say, ‘You probably need to tone that down. That makes you an easy target to somebody who comes into the shop or somebody who knows you,’” said Capt. Greg Hargrove of the Howard County Sheriff’s Department.

Roe was beaten so severely that his was a closed-casket funeral.

“We found a lot of the cases that we have, unless there’s a personal connection, somebody who is just trying to escape a crime scene, rarely are they going to go and stay there and carry out the kind of brutal beating that Bob took,” said Hargrove. “Usually it's just to get away. They want to get out of the scenario. This obviously is a different case. If it was a random act, this individual obviously had a lot of rage.”

No one has ever been arrested or charged with Roe’s murder.

Kokomo police think it was on Thanksgiving of 2004 when Janet Yeary allowed a stranger into her house on North Apperson Way.

“I talked to her the evening  before, lets see, would have been November 24th, the evening before Thanksgiving,” said Carlie Martin who lived across the street from her mother. “She was cooking like she always did. We were going to come here and just have Thanksgiving. I worked evenings so we were going to come early in the day and just have a nice meal.”

Martin said her mother always laid out a feast for the holiday.

“It was always a huge production even though there was only a couple of us. There was always a big turkey, every casserole you can think of, salads, deserts, there was never anything unaccounted for.”

The only thing left unaccounted for on Thanksgiving morning, 2004, was Janet herself. Carlie let the day pass without word from her mother before she went across the street to look for herself.

“I don’t hear from her. I don’t hear from her. I’m calling. She’s not answering. She’s not showing that she’s been on-line,” said Martin. “So I get up, I look, the garage is still open…and this is when I find her here and come to realize she has been here since sometime the day before. I later found out that the food preparation had started, the turkey was in the oven, it was running, I didn’t know what happened.”

Detectives theorize a man from Peru, Indiana, Danny Case, was dropped off in Yeary’s neighborhood the night before Thanksgiving with no way to get home and was going door to door in an attempt to call for a ride or commit a killing.

Case was also wanted in Miami County on a charge of attempted murder, and two months later, on January 25, 2005, he was arrested at Indianapolis International Airport on an outstanding warrant.

Before detectives could place him in handcuffs, Case committed suicide in an airport holding cell.

Though he was never charged, Kokomo investigators thought Case was their man.

“There are many consistencies in the Yeary homicide that point to Danny Case a strong person of interest,” KPD Major Brian Seldon said.

Carlie Martin isn’t sure.

“I don’t feel like I’m any further than I was all those many years ago,” Martin said outside of the house where her mother died. “I don’t know if I’ll ever know…it's always been a question for me.”

Trina Lane also has unanswered questions about the murder of her sister Theresa Cooper on February 8, 2005, less than a year after Robert Roe died and three months after Janet Yeary’s killing.

Cooper had a history of drug abuse and addiction and lived with her husband and son in a two-story house on Kokomo’s westside that winter where she collected disability payments.

Lane spoke with Cooper on the phone in the week before her death and the doomed woman said she had something important to talk about but couldn’t quite say what it was.

A few days later Lane received a phone call.

“’Oh, my God, Trina,’” Lane recalls her sister saying.  “’It's on the FOX59 News. Theresa was murdered.’”

Cooper was found beaten to death and sexually assaulted in the upstairs bedroom of the house which was later boarded shut due to methamphetamine contamination.

“They were either after money or medicines,” said Lane, referring to Cooper’s immediate family members. “They were always stealing from her.”

No one has ever been arrested for the murder of Theresa Cooper, but there was a man who claimed to be a witness.

His name is Nathan Dodson.

On the streets of Kokomo, and inside the Howard County Jail, he was known as Nat Dog.

“You have Nathan Dodson living close to all three,” said Seward, the private eye. “Six-tenths of a mile from Robert Roe, 1.7 miles from Janet Yeary, and approximately, from corner-to-corner of property, 265 feet from Theresa Cooper.”

And Dodson told police he saw something suspicious in the alley linking his house with Cooper’s on the morning of the killing.

“Dodson basically inserted himself into the investigation on the Cooper murder by claiming to see a witness and a story that doesn’t really add up to too much,” said Seward.

Dodson claimed while eating a bowl of cereal , looking out a kitchen window that opened onto the alley, he spotted a man in a hoodie who made eye contact, put his forefinger to his lips as if to indicate silence and walked away.

All this in the predawn winter darkness, without the benefit of a streetlight, from 100 feet away.

And Dodson was friends with Cooper’s son.

And grew up not far from Roe.

And went to prison for more than 50 years two years later for the rape and beating of a woman at a southside public housing apartment complex on West Center Road.

“He just lived right next door to her,” said Seward. “The female victim led law enforcement to him and they actually knocked on his door during the investigation the same morning.”

Dodson’s washing machine was running, his clothes drenched in bleach.

He later pleaded guilty and went away to prison for decades.

And that’s when Kokomo’s unsolved fatal beatings stopped.

“These three are the only ones that stand out in a small time frame window,” said Seward, “They all stop happening after the conviction for the one on West Center Road.

“What’s interesting is Dodson lived within pretty close proximity to all three victims when they were murdered.”

Seward, a former small town police officer, said he has noticed a pattern, interviewed dozens of witnesses, compiled a thick file and raised questions he’d like to see local investigators ponder about Nathan Dodson, about his propensity for violence, his proximity to the victims, his personal acquaintance with the neighbor who survived his attack and Theresa Cooper, whose killer is still at large.

The investigators-for-hire also doubts Dodson’s claim to have actually spotted a suspicious man in a darkened alley and seeing into his eyes 1/3 of a football field away, while being urged to keep his own mouth shut.

“We’ve looked at him and we’re continuing to see if there’s any correlation between this or if he’s a viable suspect,” said Captain Hargrove who does not list Dodson in his top ten list of suspects or persons of interest in the Roe case.

“There are persons of interest in the Cooper Homicide Investigation, including Nathan Dodson,” wrote Major Seldon of Kokomo PD’s open 2005 homicide. “Again, we are not ruling out these persons of interest, including Nathan Dodson.”

Absent any momentum in any of their cases, the grieving families can’t help but wonder if the murders of their loved ones are connected to a man who’s departure for the Department of Correction coincided with an end to the type of fatal beatings each victim suffered.

“I think the same person was involved in each one because they were all similar and this person lived within a radius of where those people lived,” said Theresa Cooper’s sister Trina Lane.

“Everything just stopped,” said Janet Yeary’s daughter Carlie Martin. “Was it because there was someone else and they’re in prison or was it because it was him and he’s gone? Is it because these people are gone they’ve taken off? How will we ever know?”

“I think It was odd that they were all killed in the same manner and then he left this lady for dead,” said Robert Roe’s cousin Shirley Howell, recalling the attack Dodson admitted carrying out on his neighbor. “I honestly believe that there may be a tie there from everything that I was told. I honestly believe that there may be a connection. I mean, it just makes sense.”

82,000 people live in Howard County, and while they certainly don’t all know each other, the bad guys often do because of mutual criminal interests from drug dealing to burglaries to meeting inside the county jail.

In a bizarre twist of fate, Howell herself formerly worked with Dodson’s mother, while her in-laws once owed the home where Yeary died, attesting to how simple it is for paths to cross in a community the size of Howard County.

Maybe it's all just a set of coincidences, or maybe trouble seemed omnipresent whenever a violent man prowled the streets of Kokomo and its outlying areas a decade ago, and his type of attack, the same kind that took three lives in less than a year, stopped when he went away.

If you have any information about the murders of Janet Yeary, Robert Roe or Theresa Cooper in and around Kokomo in 2004 and 2005, or Nathan Dodson and what he was up to before the rape and beating of his neighbor in early 2006, call Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS

Your information could be worth a $1000 reward and answer the questions that have stumped families and investigators for more than a decade.

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