Friday, April 13, 2007
Out for Justice: Bertha Louis
For a family, it is a horrible feeling: Someone kills your son, daughter, father, mother and walks around without ever getting caught. But, guess what? Detectives never stop trying to find them. The years pass, but the determination never fades. Tonight, we begin a new segment, Out for Justice, letting police bring back cases that have gone unsolved for years to try and finally nab an elusive killer. Patrick Fraser begins his segment in North Miami where a family is still living in fear over a killing that happened 23 years ago.
WSVN -- It was 1983. If you wanted to have a good time, South Florida was a great place, and 23-year-old Bertha Louis loved being in this place.
Bertha's sister: "She had a lot of friends. She was very popular. She had a shape that was out of this world."
And Bertha was popular for another reason: the beautiful young woman was a small-time drug dealer.
Donald Slovonic: "She didn't directly deal them on the street. She had people selling for her."
A drug dealer by night, a loving daughter by day.
Bertha's sister: "And so my mom had an apointment that morning, and she always took her to her appointments."
But that morning, Bertha didn't take her mother to the doctor. When the family went to her North Miami apartment, they found out why.
Donald Slovonic: "Bertha Louis was found face down in the bathtub with her hands bound behind her back, and she had massive trauma to her head."
That was another thing about 1983. It was a brutal time.
Donald Slovonic: "Eventually, we're going to find out who did it."
Donald Slovonic was a North Miami detective assigned to the case and remembers walking into Bertha's bloody apartment.
Donald Slovonic: "She was struck repeatedly in the head, which fractured and eggshelled her skull. She was bound in the back and then she was placed face down in a tub of water."
Slovonick refers to it as overkill -- that the killer or killers tortured her to get her to talk, to give them what they were looking for.
Bertha didn't cooperate. They never found what they came for, but detectives did.
Donald Slovonic: "Hours after we started our crime scene search, we found what we belive they had been looking for, specifically, the cash and the marijuana."
Lots of money, lots of marijuana, but not a lot of help from the neighbors in Bertha's apartment complex.
Her sister says that's because it was muted by something else very common in the 1980s -- a lot of fear.
Bertha's sister: "They heard the rumbling and hollering and screaming."
In fact, Bertha's sister is so convinced the killer is still out there, she asked us to hide her face. She says she believes one of Bertha's best friends knows who killed her, but, like then, is still afraid to talk to police today.
Bertha's sister: "They could never question her because she left town. I heard she moved back here. Remember I told you I saw her at the park, but she said she had changed her life, and she didn't want to be bothered. She had nothing to say."
Cold case detectives believe they can solve this case because of one thing. You see, Bertha opened the door to her locked apartment to let her killer in, leading police to conclude they were friends.
Police say if one of Bertha's friends would tell them his name, they could nail him because he made one big mistake when he dumped Bertha's body in the tub.
Donald Slovonic: "It was also back in '83, a print that appeared to be a thumb in the back portion of the bathtub. When we put powder on it, it jumped on us. To see that good of a print in a perfect surface, we feel, if we identify that print, it will take us a long way into identifying the people responsible for Bertha's murder."
Police have run the print. It doesn't match anyone in the system, but it probably matches the killer. A killer that Donald Slovonic has thought about for 23 years.
Donald Slovonic: "She didn't deserve death at the hands of the individual or individuals that did this. They are vicious murderers. They need to be off the streets."
Bertha's family is afraid the killer will never be caught because they fear witnesses are still afraid.
Bertha's sister: "Because people don't want to talk."
But, all it takes is a call to North Miami Police to put a name to a 23-year-old fingerprint and finally catch a brutal killer.
By the way, if you know someone who was murdered and their killer was never caught, give us a call.
If you have any clues about Bertha's killer, call North Miami Police's Cold Case Unit at (305) 891-0294 ext. 3106.