Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Major gets life term in '80 slaying

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

BURLINGTON - The family of Helen Marlene Major huddled Tuesday to talk about funeral arrangements, minutes after her husband was sentenced to life in prison for killing her in 1980.

"Instead of having a formal burial, her skull sat in a forensics lab for 22 years," said Helen Major's mother, Lorraine Oakes of Lancaster. "We had just about given up hope that we would have the opportunity to bury our daughter."

Authorities said they would now turn over Helen Major's skull to family members.

William Alexander Major, 59, of Fairhaven, Mass., was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for eight years. More severe penalties, including death, were not on the books in 1980.

On Aug. 4, a jury in Boone County Circuit Court took less than an hour to find William Major guilty of murder.

"The court believes you have no conscience," Boone Circuit Judge Jay Bamberger told him before pronouncing the sentence. "Shame on you. You don't have the decency to even admit what you did."

Bamberger said he received nine letters from people describing the trauma they had endured because the killing went unsolved for nearly 23 years.

During the trial, Commonwealth Attorney Linda Tally Smith called a week's worth of witnesses to build a picture of William Major as a sadistic child molester. She said he killed his wife so he could continue molesting his son and daughter. He then told the children that their mother was a drug-addicted prostitute who abandoned them.

His children eventually told their stepmother they were being molested while the family lived in Rhode Island. William Major served 12 years on molestation charges before being released in the 1990s.

"For him to be sentenced to life is great," said Major's daughter, 27-year-old LaLana Bramble of Mount Sterling. "This is what we have hoped for, prayed for, cried for. He took my childhood, my innocence, my mom."

Helen Major's skull was found a year after her disappearance on a farm where her husband had worked. It took modern DNA analysis to positively identify the skull because the teeth had been removed.

The rest of her body has never been recovered despite extensive searches of the area.

A central Kentucky funeral home has donated a baby's casket for the funeral.

"I think over the past several years I have always felt my mom's presence looking over my shoulder," said Bramble, who was instrumental in getting the cold case reopened two years ago. "I know she is up above smiling today."

The location and time of the funeral are being kept secret. The family wants a private gathering.


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