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20 years after slaying of 2, still no arrest

Two decades have passed since the double homicide of a city mother and her 5-year-old daughter with no killer yet behind bars for the crime.

Gail Matthews, 23, and Tamara Berkheiser, 5, were slain at their 812 Center St. home Sept. 1 or 2, 1994.

Even after all this time, the family isn’t giving up hope for justice. Lois Beackley (formerly Matthews), Matthews’ mother and Berkheiser’s grandmother, said the journey has been long, but she has faith her family will find some closure.

“(It’s been) hell. But we’re not giving up. We won’t give up until something is done,” Beackley said. “Keep right on pushing and pushing and pushing them, sooner or later, somebody’s bound to give.”

Beackley and her daughter, Julie Stroble, believe that the case now is closer than ever to being solved, thanks to Detective Kenneth Mains, who took over the investigation about four years ago.

“He’s an amazing detective. Like with any detective, they have to start at the beginning. Whenever you first take it, it’s hard. And he’s made it the furthest of any of them,” Stroble said.

The investigation has been full of difficulties as years have gone by with little evidence for officers and the trail getting colder. The last time the district attorney’s office had a suspect in custody was in 2004, when Earl R. “Skip” Kramer was arrested but ultimately released due to insufficient evidence.

Since requesting to take on the case, Mains has had to sift through thousands of files and learn every detail possible of what is known about the mysterious night that mother and daughter lost their lives.

“With a cold case like this, it’s extremely difficult because there’s 20 years worth of rumors you have to fight through to find the truth,” he said.

Still, with Mains’ perspective on the case, new leads have been discovered with evidence building against another possible suspect.

“I believe, eventually, there will be an arrest,” he said.

Beackley has faith Mains will be the one to find enough evidence to make an arrest.

“I know he’s going to solve it. It’s just going to take some time. He’s really working on it. I’m not saying the other ones didn’t, but they had their mind on one person. They didn’t bother looking at anyone else, and that’s where they did wrong, I guess,” she said.

Keeping the investigation going has required some creative thinking on the part of Matthews’ family. Beackley and Stroble shared that they have done everything from contact television shows that highlight cold cases to picketing in front of the court house.

“We’re not allowed to do it again,” Stroble said of the picketing. “The reason why we did it back then was because we didn’t feel like they were … being fair to the case. We’re not doing it for the publicity. We’re not doing it to make people look bad. We’re doing it for Gail and Tamara, because they deserve justice, just like any other person in the world who has been murdered and don’t have peace. It’s just the right thing to do.”

The case even has inspired one of Beackley’s granddaughters, Jennifer Matthews, to go through the police academy. She wants to become a detective to help families who have gone through similar situations such as her own.

To keep the case fresh in the community’s mind, Stroble and Beackley have hung flyers in Jersey Shore and Muncy asking anyone with possible leads to contact Mains. They have held a yearly vigil in early September in honor of the anniversary each year for the past 20 years. This year’s vigil will be held at 7 p.m. today in Brandon Park.

Mains wants the community to know that though an arrest hasn’t been made, the case has not been forgotten.

“We still everyday investigate something in regard to this case,” he said.

For him, it’s become such a part of his life that he doesn’t believe he will ever stop trying to solve it.

“I will never give up, even if I move away and become a butcher in Minnesota, I will never give up trying to solve this case,” he said.

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