– Opening the brown cardboard boxes is like traveling back in time.
Inside is a lot of empty space and a few small files filled with yellowing paper and faded ink.
The files contain thumbnails of black-and-white crime scene photos, police reports that are short and sometimes handwritten, names of witnesses who have long passed away, and clues to crimes that still haven’t been solved.
May 20, 1984, 18-year-old Karen Badger, a young mother and recent Kathleen High School graduate, was found dead under a piece of carpet in the woods off the 700 Block of East Robson Road.
On Oct. 19, 1986, 41-year-old Robert April, a fruit picker from Lakeland, was found dead in an abandoned railroad yard off the 600 block of Kathleen Road.
The cases are two of the Lakeland Police Department’s oldest unsolved homicides.
Detectives had little evidence or information at the time to help them solve the cases.
Now, more than 2½ decades later, detectives are still struggling with both deaths, and almost no new information has been uncovered in years.
But detectives Scott Kercher and Brad Grice aren’t giving up.
They just need the community’s help.
As part of a continuing series in partnership with LPD, The Ledger is profiling many of the department’s 37 cold cases and unsolved homicides.
The detectives say they hope that with a little extra time to focus on the unsolved homicides and with help from the community, they’ll be able to solve more of the cases.
“We’re hoping that somebody calls who actually has firsthand knowledge,” Grice said. “Either the suspect might have told them something or they actually were a witness that didn’t come forward. And now that’s brand-new information.”
During the evening of May 4, 1984, Karen Badger left her grandmother’s home in the housing projects near Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Second Street to go to the Burger King restaurant on East Memorial Boulevard. She had just been hired there but hadn’t started work yet, according to police reports.
She didn’t have a car and either walked or got a ride to the restaurant, police said.
She never returned home.
Badger’s grandmother, with whom the young mother lived, reported Badger missing May 7.
Almost two weeks after that, a man found her body under a piece of blue carpet while he looked for cans near a dirt road just off East Robson Street, police said. It took police almost two more weeks to identify her through fingerprints matched to ones found at her home.
Her body had started decomposing and a medical examiner never could determine how Badger died. However, because of the way she was found, detectives considered her death a homicide.
At the time, detectives conducted interviews, but they never identified a suspect.
Police told a Ledger reporter in June 1984 that Badger was “a church-going woman and had no steady boyfriend.” She also didn’t have any enemies who would want to hurt her, police said.
During the past 30 years, detectives have received very little new information about Badger’s case.
Until recently, the last time detectives had spoken with anyone from Badger’s family was when her sister called Kercher in 2005.
In an attempt to find more family members, Kercher reached out to Badger’s mother last month.
Rudeen Badger told The Ledger that she wasn’t very close with her daughter at the time. She said Karen Badger was a good girl who had her problems, but was making a life for herself.
The teen had an 11-month-old son, who ended up being raised by Badger’s grandmother. The son doesn’t remember his mother, Rudeen Badger said.
She said she thinks about her daughter’s case often because there are so many unanswered questions and said she just wants to know what happened.
While walking to work during the afternoon of Oct. 19, 1986, a 27-year-old man found Robert April’s body about 30 yards from the railroad tracks near the 600 block of Kathleen Road, police said.
April was lying face-down in the tall grass wearing faded jeans, shoes and socks. His shirt was found nearby, police said, and he didn’t have a wallet on him.
Police said an autopsy showed he died from a blow to the head, which was probably caused by some type of weapon. Detectives said it appeared April was killed somewhere else and his body dumped near the tracks.
At the time, police told The Ledger that people saw April, who was known to neighbors as Roberta, walking in the area of Fifth Street and Kettles Avenue about 2:30 a.m. the day his body was found about 1 p.m.
Grice, who last interviewed people about April’s case in 2005, said the man was originally from Yazoo City, Miss.
He was known to Lakeland police and had a short criminal history that included charges of robbery, aggravated battery, disorderly intoxication and trespassing.
During their investigation, detectives interviewed numerous people, and Grice said several names of potential suspects came up, but there was nothing concrete.
Police never identified a murder weapon.
Grice and Kercher said cases like Badger and April push them to work harder.
They said it’s frustrating to have a case go unsolved for so long and not to have anyone with credible information come forward.
They’re hoping that will change sometime soon.
Stephanie Allen can be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7550.
Cold Cases: All stories