Southeast Missouri killing unsolved after 30 years

Sunday, July 7, 2013 | 4:34 p.m. CDT; updated 8:01 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 7, 2013

CAPE GIRARDEAU — It has been 30 years since Deborah Manning was killed, and friends and relatives still hope the killer will be brought to justice.

Manning left her mother and stepfather's home in Cape Girardeau shortly after 10 p.m. on July 4, 1983. An off-duty police officer found her body shortly after midnight on July 5 on a dark, lonely road between Chaffee and Delta. The body was nude and the 27-year-old victim had been stabbed to death.

Manning's best friend, Sharon Rucker, told the Southeast Missourian she watched Manning's 4-year-old grandson put flowers on her grave and wonders what is in the killer's mind.

"If this man is still out there, if he's not dead ... would he come back and hurt one of these kids? Has he hurt other women? How many other mothers has he killed for nothing?" Rucker wonders.

Amanda Manning was just 3 when her mother was killed. She doesn't remember much about her.

"Nothing, really," she said. "Just what I've heard. Little bits and pieces. Just what I've been told or what I've heard."

She said her mother's death made her father and older brothers, who were 10 and 7 at the time, unusually protective.

"They still hover over me like I'm a 16-year-old kid driving for the first time. ... If they don't hear from me within a day or two, they're looking for me," she said.

Rucker said she hasn't given up hope that her friend's killer will be brought to justice. Neither has Lt. David James of the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department, though he suspects the best opportunity to solve the case may have slipped by three decades ago.

The Cape Girardeau County-Bollinger County Major Case Squad was formed just weeks before Manning was killed. James said the case should have been the squad's first investigation. But it wasn't turned over to the squad.

"I think that the Major Case Squad would have had a better chance of clearing the homicide at the time," James said. "You had some experienced officers working on the case, but maybe not enough, because the case drug out several months."

Officers still pull out the case file and look at it now and then. James said investigators plan to re-interview witnesses this summer. Still, in a homicide investigation, time is the enemy.

"Obviously the first 48 hours after a homicide occurs is the best time to try to solve the case," he said.

Witnesses saw Manning with two men at a bar shortly before she disappeared. Police identified the men, even checked DNA evidence, James said. But there was no solid evidence linking them to the crime.

Finding the answer may hinge on old-fashioned sleuthing, James said.

"It really boils down to the old gumshoe detective. You've got to get out there, and you've got to ask questions, and you've got to talk to people," James said. "Basic police work sometimes is the best."

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