The following is part of a weekly series on unsolved homicides and suspected homicide cases in Fayette County and the surrounding area.
Sometimes even the coldest of cold case homicides can rapidly heat up.
And investigators say that sometimes all that is needed is a fresh perspective and police officers willing to follow their instincts.
On Nov. 2, 1971, James W. Ramsey, 17 and Mary Ann Lundy, 16, both Monongahela Valley residents, were traveling in Fallowfield Township, Washington County when they saw a car they thought was disabled.
Trooper John F. Marshall, who oversees the cold case investigations for the state police station in Uniontown, said Ramsey stopped the car and the couple got out to see if the driver needed assistance.
That’s when the driver pulled a handgun and demanded to have sex with Lundy.
Marshall said Lundy refused and the man shot Ramsey in the head and then shot her in the torso before fleeing the scene.
After the shooting, police said, Lundy, though seriously wounded, managed to drive four miles to the hospital where she eventually recovered. Ramsey died the day after the shooting.
Lundy was able to recount the shooting to police and described the suspect and the car he was driving.
Police conducted sweeps of the region but no one matching the description was ever located and the case grew cold, Marshall said.
Lundy, who has married and now lives in central Pennsylvania, declined to discuss the case, but law enforcement officials said that even when cases like this grow cold, every time a case file is reviewed there is the potential for the case to break open as “new eyes” examine the dusty pages.
Uniontown police Chief Jason A. Cox said that whether it is a cold case homicide investigation or a criminal case that just occurred, the practices and procedures police follow ultimately remain the same.
“We initially are looking for forensic evidence and conducting interviews and then trying to piece together the information we receive,” Cox said. “Whether the case is cold or hot, police work is conducted in primarily the same fashion, gathering information and evidence and trying to establish a time line and suspect — basically leaving no stone unturned.”
He said that even with advances in technology, including DNA evidence and advanced fingerprinting methods, sometimes officers are just left with a set of facts, witness accounts and a whole lot of variables.
At that point, police work can turn on a hunch or a theory.
“As investigators we look at the bigger picture and develop leads from the things that we are able to ascertain. When we examine the evidence and there is nothing concrete, officers can develop theories and then work to prove or disprove them. So, in essence, a police officers’ instincts can play a significant role in any investigation,” Cox said.
State police Lt. Jeff Fisher agreed.
“Sometimes you just reach a point where you can go no further with a case and you sit down and look at the evidence and the case file and you just get a feeling to move in a certain direction,” Fisher said. “Maybe it is conducting a followup interview. Maybe it is trying to pin down other witnesses. But, all investigators sometimes get a hunch and then go after it and see where it leads.”
Fisher, who is the station commander of the state police in Uniontown, said that those tenuous connections investigators make between suspects and witnesses can often be bolstered simply by asking the right questions to the right people.
“You get an idea to conduct a certain interview again and the person you interview says that so-and-so was also at the scene. That gives you a new lead. You conduct that interview and all of a sudden you have new information that could lead to an arrest,” Fisher said. “Sometimes people just don’t come forward with information and it is only once we start digging that we learn of what they might have witnessed.”
And while Ramsey’s shooting death remains a cold case, Marshall said that the investigation could warm up at any time.
“We have an idea,” he said. “It is just figuring out how to prove it.”
Anyone with information regarding Ramsey’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.