Advances in forensic science may help the Kansas Bureau of Investigation unlock the mystery of a Great Bend double homicide that has gone unsolved for 20 years. Corey Latham, special agent in charge with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, stood outside the KBI office building in Great Bend and spoke Tuesday at a news conference where he said the KBI has identified a male DNA sample taken from the body of one of two women slain at the Dolly Madison Bakery Outlet Store, located at 1004 Harrison St.
“This past Sunday, September 4, marked the 20th anniversary of the deaths of Mary Drake and Mandi Alexander,” Latham said. On that date in 2002, the Great Bend Police Department received a call from a Dolly Madison Bakery truck driver who stopped there to make a delivery at approximately 7:55 p.m. and found the bodies.
“A thorough investigation was conducted at the time. For over hundreds of weeks, we’ve interviewed hundreds of individuals; thousands of personalities have been working in this investigation but today no individuals have been arrested for this. We hope to change that,” he said.
“Over the past year, KBI agents and forensic scientists conducted an exhaustive review of all of the physical evidence that was collected in this case focused on technologies that have advanced beyond where they were in 2002, especially focusing on areas that could produce results that will be useful to them. As a result of that, we’ve identified a male DNA sample that was on one of the bodies, so that in and of itself is pretty significant.”
Unfortunately, this is not a DNA profile that can be placed into a national database to search for a match, Latham said.
“The DNA profile as I said is a male profile, so that is Y-STRs (taken specifically from the male Y chromosome). Y-STRs are useful to us in terms of a direct comparison. What I mean by that is we need to have the name of an individual, and then we’ll go ask that individual to give us a sample of their DNA. And then we can compare that.”
While this is useful information, it does not immediately reveal the name of a suspect, he admitted. However, it is a promising lead because Great Bend Police Department detectives, KBI agents and Barton County Sheriff’s Office officials have previously collected numerous DNA samples in connection with this investigation.
“We’ll continue with those efforts,” which helps law enforcement look at individuals and in some cases eliminate suspects.
“Obviously we’re looking for the right person, which is why we’re holding this press conference today. We hope we can find an individual out there who is maybe holding onto just a little bit of information, hoping we can find a detail that maybe they haven’t shared in the past, or a suspicion about an individual that we can then utilize in our investigation.
“The KBI, Great Bend Police Department, Barton County Sheriff’s Office – we’re committed to solving this crime. Our condolences go out to the family and friends of Mary and Mandi. We know it’s been a difficult 20 years for them, and we want nothing more than to solve this crime ourselves.”
Public assistance is still needed
Lathem also thanked the public for dozens if not hundreds of tips and leads shared over the years.
“We’ve done our best to run each and every one of those down and will continue to do that. So we would ask for continued support. If anyone has even the slightest detail that is relevant to this case, we would ask them to share that by calling the KBI at 1-800-KS-CRIME, or submitting anonymously at www.kbi.ks.gov/sar, or by calling Barton County Crime Stoppers.”
There is still a $17,000 reward for information leading to solving this time.
Latham answered a few questions from the media but said he did not want to reveal evidence that would hinder law enforcement from presenting a robust case in court when it comes time to bring a suspect to justice. But Mandi Alexander’s sister, Desiree Werth, voiced her frustration with the KBI.
“I want to know why you’ve never stayed in contact with the families,” Werth said. “Why we’ve always had to find out over social media, things that have gone on or what you’re doing now.
“Just like the other day; I did get a phone call from Brian (Carroll, senior special agent, lead investigator on the case). However, as soon as I hung up the phone after asking him directly if there was any new information that he could give me he said no, because that information only the perp would know, and law enforcement. Then to hang up the phone and read on Facebook that you have new evidence. ...
“We would rather you pick up the phone and tell us, ‘hey, we don’t really have any new information to give you but we want you to know that we care and we are still here’ than to hear nothing from you. Do you understand what that feels like? Apparently not, because it’s continued for 20 years.”
Carroll was in the audience, along with Great Bend Police Chief Steve Haulmark and Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir. Latham invited Werth to come inside the KBI office to discuss it further.
Latham acknowledged that this is a difficult case, and has been from Day One.
“We hoped that we would have this thing resolved in Year One. Certainly with the passage of time it doesn’t help but we’re optimistic that we’re going to get there. This release of information about the DNA is a significant development in the case.”
Kathye Phelps, a friend of Mandi Alexander, comforted Werth and joined her after the news conference. When asked what Mandi was like, Phelps said, “I remember she was very kind. Loving, shy, very wholesome. She was always happy and she loved her children immensely. She was very family oriented.” Phelps said all of the family members of Drake and Alexander have appreciated everything that law enforcement has done.
“It’s just 20 years later and how can you not be incredibly upset? How can you not? I know they do appreciate law enforcement but let’s get this thing solved.”