Thursday, June 14, 2001

Arrest made in 1974 killing

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Detective Frank Smith couldn't forget Cynthia Delores Beuerlein's face, sweetly smiling in the last photo taken before she was sexually assaulted and beaten to death in 1974.

        “She was so doggone young, so pretty,” Detective Smith, 51, said. “She had just barely turned 15 on June 10, three days before she was killed.”

        With the Springdale teen in mind, Detective Smith and two other Butler County Sheriff's deputies spent 18 months combing dusty documents and tracking scattered witnesses. Their work led to an arrest Wednesday, 27 years after Ms. Beuerlein's body was found in a ditch.

        “No matter how old the case is, justice can be served,” said Detective Smith, who worked on the case with detectives Rich Prescott and Mike Laney.

        James Elmo Craft, 61, is being held in the Butler County Jail on a charge of aggravated murder. A grand jury heard the case last week and issued an indictment Tuesday.

        Mr. Craft is already serving a 10-to-25-year sentence for the 1988 voluntary manslaughter of his wife, Ruth Craft, a Fairfield West Elementary School teacher who was shot to death.

        If convicted in Ms. Beuerlein's death, Mr. Craft could receive a life sentence with parole eligibility in about 16 years, said Prosecutor Robin Piper. While an assistant prosecutor, Mr. Piper had handled the case involving Mrs. Craft's slaying.

        On Wednesday, Mr. Craft, wearing leg chains and handcuffs, told reporters he was not guilty of killing Ms. Beuerlein.

[photo] Detective Frank Smith (right), and colleague Rich Prescott discuss the Beuerlein case Wednesday.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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        Her relatives are still living in the Butler County area, but they declined to talk to reporters Wednesday, Detective Smith said.

        Once labeled “unsolvable,” the Beuerlein case is one of a half-dozen homicides the sheriff's office began reinvestigating early last year. Sheriff Harold Don Gabbard said the cases were reopened in hopes that DNA analysis or other new technology would crack them. But in the Beuerlein case, “good, old-fashioned police work did it,” he said. “It took a lot of legwork, a lot of door-knocking.”

        Detective Smith said the case had bothered him since he joined the sheriff's office in 1977. Detectives then were still working steadily to solve the crime. The girl was last seen hitchhiking, a common practice among teens in the 1970s.

        A boy on a bicycle spotted Ms. Beuerlein's body June 13, 1974, at Rialto and Beckett roads in Union Township (now West Chester Township). The site is several miles from Ohio 4 at Lincoln Avenue in Hamilton, where she was last seen the night before.

        Over the years, leads dried up, detectives retired or died, and the case landed in the county's old “210 Building,” a former storage location at 210 Second St.

        “It was filed in a box with dust and dirt on it,” Detective Smith said.

        In January 2000, Detective Smith scoured the file — and found an investigator's note about an anonymous phone call. The caller related intimate details of the crime two weeks after Ms. Beuerlein was killed — and asserted that a man with a certain nickname was responsible.

        Detective Smith recognized the nickname (which he wouldn't disclose), “and that's how the whole case unraveled,” he said.

        “That led to interviews with (Mr. Craft), which led to other witnesses and other evidence, which has now led to the indictment.”

        Mr. Craft was acquainted with Ms. Beuerlein, but Detective Smith wouldn't say how.

        “We've done our homework on this one,” Detective Smith said. “I think it's a very winnable case.”

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