Cold Case: HPD detective still digging for answers - WDAM - TV 7 - News, Weather and Sports

Cold Case: HPD detective still digging for answers

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HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) -

It's been 513 days since the murder of 51-year-old Melvin Buckhelter. For Hattiesburg Police, that's 513 days without hard evidence, more than 500 days wondering if the killer is still out there.

A HPD detective believes the key to closing Buckhelter's case is someone coming forward and telling what they know.

On June 10 2011, police found the body of Buckhelter, face down, along the tracks at Mobile and Second Street in Downtown Hattiesburg.  According to police, he died of fatal shots to the head. The only evidence found at this scene was Buckhelter's wallet, his lighter, his keys and a cigarette butt laying next to his mouth. Now, you know as much as the police did that day, and all they have to go on to solve this mystery.

"Out of all the homicides or murders that we've had in the past there is some kind of evidence that tells a story, any evidence that is left behind it tells some kind of story," said HPD Detective, Steve Hartley.

Detective Hartley continues to piece together the details of one case, trying to find answers.

"This had no story. It had no evidence. It had no story to tell," said Hartley.

Evidence...motives..leads...these are vital aspects missing from Buckhelter's murder.

"This case is considered a cold case," said Hartley.

Hartley is the lead detective investigating the murder. The circumstances of Buckhelter's death have perplexed Hartley for more than a year. He arrived at the scene at 7:30 that summer morning, about an hour after a passerby, who found the body, flagged down a policeman.

"No shell casings, wasn't any tracks, any footprints or anything like that," said Hartley.

Which he finds strange since much of the area is covered in gravel. When Hartley revisited the scene where Buckhelter was found, he couldn't take a step with out leaving his footprints behind.

Buckhelter's body position lead to more questions.

"When we arrived on scene he was laying in a fetal position, some what of a fetal position, and his wallet laying next to him," said Hartley.

To Hartley the fetal position suggested Buckhelter was defedning himself, but from whom? Then there was the question of his wallet.

"But there was still money in his wallet, so that kind of leads to believe that maybe it wasn't a robbery," said Hartley.

Hartley says HPD's search for evidence in the area where Buckhelter was found resulted in a dead-end. Then he began working to understand what sort of man the victim may have been.

"During the victimology we were trying to find out Melvin's habits. Something that would give somebody motive to kill him," said Hartley.

Hartley discovered Buckhelter came to Christian Services for lunch, so often Hartley describes it as clockwork. He learned not only that Buckhelter was here on the day he died, but someone here at Christian Services told him of another habit. This revelation provided Hartley with more questions than answers, but it would prove to be the lead Hartley needed.

"He seemed upset during that time, and I think it was in reference to him owing some money to somebody," said Hartley.

This information steered Hartley to Buckhelter's home yards away at Briarfield Apartments. It was here Hartley learned from friends and family, Buckhelter constantly borrowed money from a neighbor and others.

"One individual said he would come on the day he was suppose to pay this guy back, he would pay this guy back with interest, then turn around and borrow money on top of that," said Hartley.

Hartley says it didn't make sense, and no one could answer why he borrowed money, especially since he received a check every month. Other suspicions like drug use were ruled out.

"As far as toxicology he didn't have any drugs in his system," said Hartley.

More mysteries would unfold once a source informed Hartley that Buckhelter was last seen alone around 9 p.m. ,  near the spot where his body was found. This information contradicted what those who knew Buckhelter told investigators.

"He would never stay out past dark," said Hartley.

Hartley started to believe Buckhelter had a secret, one Hartley was determined to uncover.

"Just pretty much walked down the street. Door to door," said Hartley.

Franticly searching, questioning the community for answers paid off. He says two weeks into the investigation a person came forward, giving Hartley three strong person's of interest. Hartley says a statement from a source alleges Buckhelter owed one of the three money.

"The trail always seems to come back to these people," said Hartley.

But it's not enough without hard evidence. Still, Hartley says he will never give up.

"I feel like I'm letting the family down, because I can't find out who killed their loved one," said Hartley.

If you have any information on this case call HPD at 601-545-4971. You do not have to give your name.

Copyright 2012 WDAM. All rights reserved.

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