The number of violent crimes committed in Williamsport has gone down, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports for 2009 and 2010. But a lower crime rate means little to the families of victims who have been waiting for years - even decades - to see their family member's killers brought to justice.
Like the families who refuse to forget, authorities say they remain determined to close all five local unsolved homicide cases.
Police Chief Gregory Foresman and Mayor Gabriel J. Campana, in a joint interview, expressed their condolences to the families of victims and determination to see justice served.
Long unsolved homicides can have a negative effect on investigators' productivity, according to the 2007 Police Effective Research Forum of the U.S. Department of Justice. It's difficult to focus attention on new cases when there's already a backlog of unsolved ones.
Foresman said eventually the local cases will be closed.
"It's only a matter of time before we connect the dots and close the loop," Foresman said.
COLD CASE LIST
Following is the city's list of unsolved homicides, according to city police:
Gail Matthews and her 5-year-old daughter, Tamara Berkheiser, slain late Sept. 1 or early Sept. 2, 1994, in their home in the 800 block of Center Street. Matthews, 23, died as a result of strangulation, multiple stab wounds, sexual assault and blunt trauma. Berkheiser died from strangulation, according to the county coronor's report.
Randy Speck, 49, formerly of 2004 Park Drive in Loyalsock Township, was the only fatality in a series of seven random shootings that took place around the city on Jan. 4, 2008. Speck was shot near the intersection of Franklin and Hughes streets. He was taken to Williamsport Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Besides his slaying, the shooter or shooters of the other victims that night have not been brought to justice.
Rasheed Watson, 26, formerly of the 1400 block of Memorial Avenue, died faceup in the street as the result of a single gunshot to the heart at about 12:10 a.m. in the 1400 block of Scott Street. Watson, who was released from Lycoming County Prison about two weeks before he was killed, told his fiancee that he had to take care of something important on the night of Sept. 9, 2009. After hearing gunshots, witnesses saw a dark colored minivan with no lights on speed west on Scott Street.
Josh Lee, 25, whose only known address was listed as Williamsport, was shot at about 11:20 p.m. on March 21, 2010, in the first block of Brandon Place. His body was discovered slumped in a vehicle parked at 56 Brandon Place. Neighbors reported overhearing an argument, followed by the sound of gun shots.
Terence L. Speller, 33, of Philadelphia, was fatally shot in the 700 block of High Street on Dec. 15, 2010. Speller was the only fatality in a series of four shootings between Dec. 12 and Dec. 17 across the city. Police believe that the victims in that series of shootings somehow were connected. All had criminal records.
Foresman added that technological advancements may allow police to re-examine old evidence in a different light. He said that is convincing those in power to take another look at older cases.
Because the cases remain open, Foresman would not discuss the specifics of any investigation. But he disclosed the general status of some of the cases.
"I know the district attorney has recently reopened the Berkheiser and Matthews case," Foresman said, referencing the 1994 slayings of 23-year-old Gail Matthews and her 5-year-old daughter, Tamara Berkheiser, in their Center Street home.
"I'm not exactly sure what the direction of that is right now, but I believe they're examining evidence based on DNA and they may be able to draw better conclusions with the technology we have now."
In another case, Foresman said police believe there is some connection with the four victims who were hit in a string of shootings between Dec. 12 and Dec. 17, 2010. During those shootings, one man, Terence L. Speller, 33, died from his wounds.
"I won't say how they're all interconnected, but we believe there's some relationships and associations there with these individuals. They did somehow know each other," he said.
Foresman said he sympathizes with the vexation of victim families, and understands how they could become frustrated with investigators. He explained that officials cannot discuss the details of an open investigation with anybody, not even the victim's family, so loved ones are forced to draw conclusions based on incomplete information.
"I can understand the frustration families might feel because they just hear bits and pieces, such as comments from officers or investigators who are only associated with our agency."
He maintains that officers and detectives have always maintained a high level of quality when it comes to evidence collection and thorough questioning of witnesses.
Campana, who originally was elected to the office of mayor on the slogan "Day One, You're Done," a threat to those involved in a spike in shootings in the city, wore a bullet-proof vest to his inauguration following the series of eight random shootings that killed Randy Speck the Friday night before he took the oath of office.
"People forget, I wasn't mayor when that happened," he said of those shootings. "Since I've become mayor, we've seen a decrease in crime. The numbers bear that out."
Keeping the citizens of Williamsport safe is a top priority for emergency officials.
According to Campana, the decreasing rate of violent crimes and addition of more downtown businesses equate to proof that safety officials are working effectively.
"I have crime watch groups who tell me they are pleased with the direction we're going in regard to decreasing crime," Campana said. "We've been ranked in the top 10 for safest cities of our size, and the second safest city in Pennsylvania, behind State College."
"We've been ranked the seventh fasted growing city in the nation. We're on the upswing for a safe city. I believe those things speak for themselves," Foresman added.