Georgia

40 years later, newly formed cold case squad finds Fort Benning Army private’s killer

ATLANTA — In 1982, the body of a Fort Benning Army private was discovered in Chattahoochee County. Her killer was never found.

Now 40 years later, a suspect has been indicted and Channel 2′s Dave Huddleston is the only reporter who has spoken with the men responsible for solving the case.

It is the first time this special investigative team has talked publicly.

There are more than 540 unsolved homicides in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s files.

Now a team -- made up entirely of retired agents-- is taking a fresh look at those files with one motivation: bringing justice to victims and their families.

Rene Blackmore, 20, was an Army private at Fort Benning when she disappeared in 1982. Days later her body was found. Her killer was not.

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“She was young. She had her whole life ahead of her. She would be 60 years old now,” GBI cold case squad investigator Jimmy Talkington said. “That’s pretty much a whole life there that she missed, and her family missed.”

GBI agents worked the case for a few years but leads ran dry and more cases piled up. Blackmore’s file went cold.

“An unsolved homicide case doesn’t go away. it stays in that office. Forever,” GBI cold case squad investigator Don Robertson said.

Four decades later, three retired GBI agents believe they’ve finally found the man responsible for Blackmore’s death.

They make up half the GBI’s newly formed cold case squad.

“We got started in January of 20,” GBI cold case squad investigator Chris Tolbert said.

Tolbert heads up the squad. He told Huddleston that after putting out a survey to all retired agents in 2019 asking who would be interested, they chose the six best.

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“These guys have expertise in some of these cases that were very difficult, that were notorious throughout Georgia, so they were the right ones,” Tolbert said.

For the agents, it also meant a chance to find closure for the victim’s families and themselves.

“One of the hardest things in the world is having to tell a family that you’ve run out of leads and that their loved one who has been murdered is going to go,” Robertson said.

The agency asked every regional office to submit their top two cold cases. Chattahoochee County chose the Blackmore homicide.

Robertson and Rothwell remembered the case.

“It’s something that has been in my mind a long time -- for 40 years,” Robertson said.

“We thought this case needed resolution. This victim need justice,” Rothwell said.

For Talkington, this would be his first time seeing the file.

“These cold cases are puzzles and you want to put the pieces back together and see if there are any new pieces that you can put in there,” Talkington said.

Each man worked the case separately going through every document, every piece of evidence without worrying about other cases.

They were able to follow an old lead that eventually paid off.

“We’ve got somebody we believe is very guilty and is going to be prosecuted,” Robertson said.

He was referring to the prosecution of Marcelles McCluster, 64, a man already serving a life sentence for a separate homicide.

While they know not every case will have the same outcome, they’re ready for the challenge.

“It’s all about the victims and the victims’ families getting these cases solved and getting the bad guys off the street,” Talkington said.

“There’s a satisfaction that we all have of being a part of something that needed to be done,” Rothwell said.

“All we have to do is be lucky or good at our jobs one time. And that’s what we’re looking for,” Robertson said.

“So far, you’re batting 1,000,” Huddleston said.

“We won’t always be batting 1,000, but I’ll take it as long as we can keep it,” Robertson said.

The cold case squad didn’t want us to share the specifics of what led them to the indictment, because the case is actually moving through the courts right now and they don’t want anything to jeopardize this case that took 40 years to potentially solve.

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