Charlottesville's 30 Year Murder Mystery: Search for Katie Worsky
Thirty years ago, the Charlottesville community was rocked by the disappearance and presumed death of a 12-year-old girl named Katie Worsky. Now, decades later, the biggest question remains unanswered: where is Katie?
In the years since, the Worsky family and the community as a whole faced difficult tests. But a lengthy police investigation and a criminal trial have left little more than lingering uncertainty about Katie's fate.
In file footage, not seen since 1983, Katie's mother Robin Worsky says, "it's more of a fear of living without knowing that haunts me."
"That just doesn't happen here," recalls former NBC29 anchor and reporter Dave Cupp. "And nobody knew what had happened."
"I'll always remember this case, there's no question about that," former Commonwealth's Attorney Richard Barrick said in NBC29 file footage. And after 55 years practicing law, today Barrick says the Worsky case sticks with him.
Former Charlottesville Police Chief John "Dek" Bowen agrees.
"I don't think there's any doubt that it's been the toughest case I know of," Bowen said in file footage. Even today, he says, "I don't consider this case closed, because we still don't know where Katie is."
The Worsky family last saw their daughter alive on the evening of July 11. She was on her way to a sleepover at the home of her friend Tammy Thomas. Then, the morning of July 12, everything changed as police began a time-sensitive search for the missing 12-year-old girl.
"Everybody at the very beginning of this case felt like we're going to find Katie," Bowen said.
But that optimism soon turned to concern. Katie was a diabetic, and did not have access to her life-saving insulin.
"Then it hits us that we probably were not going to find her alive," Bowen said.
Police spent weeks looking for a body. They called in specialized search dogs, scoured the Rivanna River, and combed through remote parts of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. The department even enlisted the help of a psychic.
"That's how desperate we were," Bowen said. "We were willing to look at anything and everything that was put in front of us."
Police never found Katie's body, but they did find a suspect: 23-year-old Glenn Barker.
"We pretty much knew who we suspected was involved in this," Bowen said.
Barker admitted in police interviews that he was present the night of Katie's disappearance. He came to visit Carrie Gates, the mother of Katie's friend Tammy Thomas, later in the evening on July 11. But when Gates turned him away, he didn't leave.
Barker approached the two girls and Tammy's younger brother, and gained access to their recreation room through an outside door. Barker later admitted in police interviews he brought beer with him, and gave some to the two young girls.
"Katie had drunk about three beers," Barrick said. "The facts convinced me early on, he killed her."
Commonwealth's Attorney Barrick had a theory. He said Barker sexually molested Worsky after the children had gone to sleep, killed her, and disposed of the body. But it took police and prosecutors almost a year to collect enough evidence to arrest Barker.
"I had no body. I had no proof of Katie's death," Barrick said. "Since we didn't have a body, I wanted to make sure that I felt we had all the evidence we could possibly accumulate."
Barrick crafted a rope of circumstantial evidence tying Barker to the crime, evidence that included blood stains from the home where Katie was last seen.
And inside Barker's apartment there was even more evidence. Police found blood stains on clothes hidden beneath his mattress. The clothes were wet, inside a plastic bag, and the stains were later found to match Katie's blood type.
"We didn't leave a stone unturned that we were aware of," Bowen said.
Evidence in hand, Barker was arrested. The trial began in the summer of 1983, a year after Katie's disappearance. Testimony and arguments lasted for a week inside Charlottesville Circuit Court. Then, after four hours of jury deliberation, Barker was found guilty of second-degree murder.
It was only the second time in Virginia's history a man had been tried and convicted of murder without the presence of a body. But despite the circumstantial nature of the evidence, investigators are convinced justice was served.
"I have no doubt in my mind that he was the guilty party," Bowen said. "No doubt whatsoever."
But to this day Barker maintains his innocence, and never admitted any fault to his own defense attorneys.
"The vast majority of times you get into these situations, the client has committed the act," former defense attorney Larry McElwain said. "Glenn Barker never admitted to me, and to the best of my knowledge my co-counsel, that he had committed this crime."
Barker served nine years of an 18-year sentence before he was released on parole in 1992.
But Katie's story continues.
"We never rest. We never stop looking," Det. Sgt. Steve Dillon said. Dillon now oversees the Charlottesville Police Forensic Unit, after joining the force in 1985.
"Her body has never been recovered," he said. "That is certainly on our mind all the time. It's been on our mind for years."
Just in the past year, police have taken new measures to find Katie. The department solicited DNA samples from each member of the Worsky family in the spring of 2011.
"If indeed remains ever were found, we could compare the DNA hopefully in those remains to the familial DNA received from her mother, father and sister," Dillon said.
That DNA information now resides in the FBI's Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) and in a database operated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Each database is checked every three to five days against unidentified remains reported across the country. That means if anything matching Katie's DNA ever appears, police will know.
But in the meantime, the question remains. What really happened all those years ago? Where is Katie now? And, will we ever know?
"They all told me, we'll never stop looking," Katie's mother Robin said in 1983 file footage. "And that was really what I needed to hear."
Now, even after three decades, Dek Bowen still knows something will turn.
"I still, I still when I think about it feel like one day something is going to tell us where she is, or what happened."
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Ed joined the NBC29 news team in May, 2011. A Charlotte, NC, native, he graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in journalism and political science.Full Story
Ed joined the NBC29 news team in May, 2011. A Charlotte, NC, native, he graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in journalism and political science. Email/Follow on Twitter/ Full Story