ELYRIA — Police and prosecutors had enough evidence to convict Bobbie New of murder in the 1976 slaying of Dorothy Spencer in the 1970s, but the delay in bringing a charge against New means he cannot receive a fair trial now, Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge wrote in a decision explaining his reasons for dismissing the case against New.
“Given this evidence, together with the available evidence which was either not pursued or ignored by investigators, the court concludes that the delay of 35 years between Dorothy Spencer’s murder and the indictment of (Bobbie) New cannot be justified,” Burge wrote.
Spencer was 45 when she was found beaten and shot in the head in her Camden Township trailer on March 14, 1976. She died of her injuries three days later.
Burge wrote that investigators rightly focused on New almost immediately in the case, but they failed to take some critical steps that would have led to charges being filed against the now 70-year-old New.
New had a history of abusing Spencer, with whom he lived, and had reason to believe that she was now seeing another man, Burge wrote. Several of Spencer’s friends and co-workers told investigators in the 1970s that she was terrified of New and was planning to leave him.
On March 13, 1976, Spencer had gone out for dinner with friends before returning home around 9:45 p.m. A neighbor told Lorain County Sheriff’s deputies that she heard a dog barking while she was watching “The Carol Burnett Show” and looked outside. She reported seeing both New’s Ford Ranchero and Spencer’s vehicle parked at the trailer.
Although a former barmaid has testified that New was with her at the Honky Tonk drinking establishment throughout the course of the night and later went to breakfast with her and other bar patrons, Burge wrote that the investigation showed that New showed up at his estranged wife’s home sometime after 11 p.m.
Around 2:11 a.m. a call was made to Allen Memorial Hospital by a woman asking for help at the trailer, where there was no phone, the judge wrote. The call was later traced to the home of Zula and Ezra Strader, who lived across the street from New’s wife. Zula also was New’s sister and was the only woman living at the home the call was made from.
Burge wrote that detectives never confronted Zula Strader with their belief that she had made the call to the hospital.
They also never interviewed Perry Strader, the couple’s son and New’s nephew, Burge wrote. It was Perry Strader who came forward to deputies in 2010 following the death of his mother and reported that his family had helped New cover up killing Spencer.
Strader made a call to New in which he falsely claimed that Zula Strader had left a letter detailing the cover-up. New asked questions about who had seen the letter and expressed concern that his sister might do something like that, but never denied killing Spencer, deputies who recorded the call reported.
Although Strader testified last month that if he had been interviewed in 1976 about New he would have lied to protect his family, Burge said detectives should still have taken the time to question the then-teenage boy.
Strader wasn’t the “newly discovered witness” prosecutors made him out to be as part of their justification for charging New so long after the crime he was accused of committing, Burge wrote.
“Even after Zula Strader testified before the grand jury that Perry lived at her home and was an adult high school student, detectives never bothered to interview him,” Burge wrote.
And two key witnesses, Ezra and Zula Strader, who could have contradicted their son’s testimony, are both dead, the judge noted.
After Spencer was killed, New disappeared for three days, never visited Spencer in the hospital and never returned to the trailer they shared.
But on April 12, 1976, New told Spencer’s son, Alfred Lilly, that he wanted to tell him what happened to his mother, but his attorney had told him not to discuss it with anyone, Burge wrote. New also promised to tell Lilly at a later date.
A friend of Lilly’s heard the conversation,but was never interviewed by detectives, Burge wrote.
Police also had adequate evidence, the judge wrote, to suggest that New had and disposed of the murder weapon, believed to be a .38-caliber Colt revolver that he had borrowed from a friend three or four months before Spencer was shot. Deputies found the gun’s box and two “wadcutter” rounds, which are typically used for target shooting, in the trailer.
The same type of bullet was determined to have been used to shoot Spencer and the bullet that struck her was found in the couch in the trailer. The gun itself was never recovered.
Prosecutors are appealing Burge’s decision in the hope that the 9th District Court of Appeals will reinstate the charge against New.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or email@example.com.