DNA testing rules out suspect in 20-year-old Southern Illinois U. murder
By PHIL BECKMAN
Convicted murderer John Paul Phillips was eliminated as a suspect in the 1981 murder of an Southern Illinois University student after a test showed that his DNA did not match DNA found at the scene, Carbondale police said Monday.
On Oct. 30, 2001, Carbondale police officers supervised the exhumation of Phillips body at the Rose Hill Cemetery in Marion. A portion of Phillips' leg bone was taken from the remains and was sent to the Illinois State Police DNA Lab in Springfield.
"From the police department's standpoint, since his genetic code does not match the evidence, and we strongly feel the evidence was left by the suspect, this eliminates him as a suspect," said Carbondale Police Sgt. Paul Echols.
Susan K. Schumake was raped and murdered on Aug. 17, 1981. Her body was found in a wooded area between U.S. 51 and the Illinois Central Gulf railroad tracks near a trail the students at the time called the "Ho Chi Minh Trail." Schumake was 21 and a senior in radio-television.
Now, Echols said, police will research the case file to look for other possible suspects from the original investigation.
Carbondale Police Chief R.T. Finney said if leads are developed, the police department will dedicate manpower to them.
"We will do that on murder cases," Finney said. "That's never a question. We'll do what we have to to get them solved."
Among the possible suspects was a man who was a drifter at the time and was questioned by police in connection with the Schumake murder. Echols said Carbondale police have kept an eye on him during the years and know where he is. Echols declined to give his name since the man remains a possible suspect.
The DNA sample left at the crime scene was also tested against others in the database and no match was found. Echols said now that it is known that the person who left the genetic material at the crime scene is not in the database, this eliminates many potential suspects.
Phillips' DNA will also become part of the Illinois DNA database and will be accessible by law enforcement agencies across the nation.
With the expansion of the DNA database to include all felons, as the years go by, the DNA profile from the crime scene will be compared to other samples that are added.
Phillips was convicted of the 1981 murder of Joan Wetherall and sentenced to death in 1986. He was charged after confessing to a cellmate in 1983 that he had murdered Theresa Clark, Kathleen McSharry and Wetheral.
Phillips died of a heart attack in 1993 while on death row and was never charged in the Schumake case.
Police said evidence collected from the 1976 McSharry murder was insufficient for DNA profiling and thus were not able to determine if Phillips was connected to the murder. Finney said Phillips remains a suspect.
All News Stories for Thursday, September 26, 2002