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Cold Case Files: Searching for Answers

Unsolved homicides are often the plot of popular TV shows, movies, and books as they provide gripping story lines, but for the real-life families who lost their loved ones, the road to solving a cold case is long and painful.

It's a pain no family ever wants to feel.

Bill Gillispie, whose father was killed at his home in 1985, says, "He lived there all of his life and no one ever hurt him at all.  He didn't have any more enemies than the normal person.  I guess we all have some enemies."

Losing a loved one in the most heinous way possible.

Lena Rittenbury, whose niece was killed in 2010, says when she first heard her niece went missing, she thought, "Ah, she'll be home later.  There's something that's going on.  But, in a way, I knew she wouldn't be."

Nineteen-year-old Krishonda Townsend, known as "Shonda," went missing July 4, 2010.

She was last seen at her friend's home in Mineral Wells where she had dinner that night.

Carolyn Rittenbury, Shonda's mom, says, "I knew something was wrong because she had never done this before.  She just wasn't that kind of girl."

She says that's when panic set in.

"Probably into the second week I was scared that something was really wrong and that she wasn't coming back."

As part of the close-knit family, Shonda's aunt, Lena, says she became concerned when Mineral Wells police found Shonda's 1997 gray Toyota Camry outside a home in the 800 block of Southeast Third Ave.

"I made entry into the car and noticed that the radio had been taken out and the dash had been ripped off," Lena says.  "She had all of her pictures around the top of her car, and they'd been torn up and thrown in the back seat.  This was not right.  At all."

For months, there was no evidence of what had happened to Shonda .

"I knew that the lord had it in his hands and there was nothing I could do," Carolyn says.  "But it was just the thought that she was gone.  I mean, it was a scary thought."

"Wondering.  It's a lot of wondering," Lena says.  "I would just pull my car over if I seen a pile of rubble in the middle of a pasture and I didn't mind climbing over a fence and going through it.  And that's what I did.  I stopped many times, and it was wondering if she was there."

Carolyn says, "I really, I looked around there until we found her, I looked everywhere for her.  You know?"

The questions and endless nights of wondering ended on Oct. 27, 2011, about 15 months after Shonda went missing.

"There was a gentleman that was walking a fence-line wanting to buy the property he was found on.," Lena says.  "He looked over the fence and down a little ravine that she was dumped in and he seen her  he seen the skeleton is pretty much what he seen."

The yearning for answers is a familiar feeling for Vernon resident Larry Gillispie.

"He was a dozer operator and a really hard working man.  He had several other businesses," Gillispie says of his dad. 

An overnight phone call let him know the unthinkable happened to his father, Bill Gillispie, at his home in Archer City on Jan. 20, 1985.

"It was my dad's wife at the time and she said something had happened to him and he was gone," Larry says.

At first, he thought his dad had a heart attack.

It was days later Larry learned his father had actually died from a gunshot wound.

"I didn't know what to think, really," Larry says.  "You know, it takes days for these things to come in.  At first, you don't know who did it or why."

He says he was sure the person responsible for his dad's death would be brought to justice.

"We were very optimistic about figuring out what happened with it.  But as time goes by, you lose hope," Larry says.  "Probably after like six months it starts fading away and there's no new evidence.  The trouble was they didn't have much evidence to begin with."

For Gillispie and for Shonda Townsend's family, they say the worst part is not knowing.

"You have trust issues, you find it hard to trust people, you just, you're very leery of people after that," Larry says.

"Anger," Lena says.  "I know i'll have to forgive them, but at this point in time, it's hard because it's been so long.  It's a little town.  Somebody should have talked by now."

"That's the hardest part because I know someone knows somewhere," Carolyn says.  "It's too little of a town that someone wouldn't be able to tell you something.  It's just covered up too much somewhere."

"I look at different people different ways now," Lena says.  "Especially the ones I thought was her friends."

"I can tell you I didn't do it because I didn't do it," Larry says.  "But as far as everyone else, there's always doubt and these doubts keep coming up to you."

Craig Goen, Palo Pinto County Sheriff's Office chief investigator, is handling Shonda's case.

He says they're still following leads and even interviewed someone about this case earlier this week.

If you have information about her murder, call the Palo Pinto County Sheriff's Office at (940) 659-2034.

And if you have information about Gillispie's murder, call the Archer County Sheriff's Office at (940) 574-2571.
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