The following is part of a weekly series on unsolved homicides and suspected homicide cases in Fayette County and the surrounding area.
It was almost 5 a.m. on a cold January morning in 2003 when Robert Lamont “J-Boy” Bristol was stabbed in the lower left chest in a bar fight at the Brownsville Hotel in Brownsville.
Bristol, 24, of Monessen, was later pronounced dead at the now-defunct Brownsville Hospital.
And unlike many cold case homicides where evidence is scant, or how the incident unfolded remains elusive, police said Bristol's stabbing was pretty straightforward and evidence and interviews immediately pointed to a handful of suspects. But, officers have not been able to get that final piece of information to lock down the case, and, in part, investigators say the bizarre notion of street loyalty is to blame.
According to Trooper John F. Marshall, who oversees cold case investigations at the station in Uniontown, Bristol was at the establishment with a group of people from the Monessen area when a second group of people from Republic arrived and an altercation ensued.
During the melee, Marshall said that one of the people from the “Republic crew” used a folding pocket knife to stab Bristol.
While the fight was raging, another bar patron and regular, Wilfredo T. Smith, no address available, arrived but was quickly ushered out the rear of the bar by the owner trying to help him avoid being caught in the fracas.
But Marshall said Smith was not so lucky.
“Smith arrived during the fight and the bartender knew him and told him to go out the back. He went out the back and got shot and he had nothing to do with it,” Marshall said.
Smith was flown by medical helicopter to a Pittsburgh hospital and was able to recover. He noted that police believe it was one of the “Monessen crew” who shot Smith, but his shooter has also not been identified.
Marshall said that 90 percent of the patrons in the bar were identified that night and have been interviewed.
“Suspects were made...one suspect was brought to the attention of the district attorney at that time but she did not think that there was enough to proceed at that point,” Marshall said.
He said police are still actively investigating the case and that interviews are still being conducted from time to time.
Marshall also said that the same person police suspected at the time of the stabbing death is still the primary suspect in the case.
“The suspect is still being pursued,” Marshall said. “We have collected all the evidence we can collect and basically it is now getting someone to talk.”
He said that unfortunately the street code of “snitches get stitches” is alive and well among many people surrounding the case and that they often stop just short of identifying the suspect by name.
“People come forward and they tell us who was there but they won't go one step further and tell us who did it,” Marshall said, noting that the suspect is still a Fayette County resident. “Someone will talk eventually.”
Anyone with information regarding Bristol's death is asked to call police at 724-439-7111.
Additionally, Marshall said Fayette County Crime Stoppers is offering up to a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case.
Tips can be made by calling 1-888-404-TIPS.