Cold Case Solved

 Posted by at 1:05 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 212023

I’ve told you many stories from my years publishing small town newspapers on the Pacific Northwest coast and in Arizona, but there are other stories that remain untold for one reason or another. Here is one that was a long time coming.

Whether you are a healthcare worker, a first responder, a schoolteacher, or a newspaperman, when you live and work in a small town you’re often going to come into contact with people you know on a daily basis in the course of your duties. This can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on the person and the situation. As a newspaper publisher, I’ve had to cover stories about tragedies that happened to people I knew and write obituaries for close friends. Sometimes it’s hard to remain objective and treat these as just one more story, but it’s something the job demands even when you wish you could be far away and hand it off to somebody else.

Such was the case in mid-June of 1996 when I was at the scene of a terrible homicide in Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona. A young man named Jody Hemphill, age 28, was found viciously stabbed to death at a business called Mountain Edge Tapes & CD’s, where he was working. It wasn’t the first homicide I covered in my career, and it wouldn’t be the last, but this one hit home because I knew Jody and his family. His father Dick had been a police officer, his mother Diane was a wonderful lady, his sister Terri worked at the bank and was a friend of mine, and his brother Lyle lived just a couple of houses down the street from me.

I can remember standing outside the building as the police were doing their initial investigation and seeing the little Dixie cups sitting inverted on the sidewalk, covering up the blood trail leading from the store as Jody’s killer made his getaway. And I can remember well the grim faces of the police officers, many of whom were also friends of mine, knowing that they were dealing with the murder of a family member of one of their own.

It was believed that robbery was the motive for the crime because $250 was missing from the store. A suspect was described as a Native American male in his late 20s to early 40s, with unkempt, dark collar-length hair. Pinetop-Lakeside is located on the edge of the White Mountain Apache Reservation and there was a lot of speculation about who was behind the attack and rumors floating through the community as people pointed fingers and talked about who could do such a terrible thing to such a nice person. I won’t go into all that here because it’s not my place to, and because there are still a lot of questions that have gone unanswered.

Over the years, as the family and the community’s frustration grew because no headway was being made on the case, it didn’t seem like it would ever be solved. I always tried to publish a story around the anniversary of Jody’s death to remind people about what had happened to him and that the person or persons responsible were still out there.

Time passed, and eventually, so did Jody’s parents, never knowing who took their son from them. The case grew cold, although the police never gave up, and last week it was announced that after developing new information, an arrest had been made. The suspect is a man named Romeo Massey Jr., a member of the White Mountain Apache tribe who lived on the reservation. In a press release, the police said that there may still be another unknown suspect who was also involved in the crime and the investigation is ongoing.

Nothing will ever bring Jody back, of course, but I hope the news of the suspect’s arrest might help his siblings, Terri and Lyle,know that their brother has not been forgotten, and that though the wheels of justice may turn slowly, they do continue to turn. Hopefully you can now rest in peace, Jody.

Thought For The Day The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is a duty of the living to do so for them.

Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  3 Responses to “Cold Case Solved”

  1. This sounds like the next book in the BIG LAKE series. I can hardly wait.

  2. Just a note of memory – here in pensacola -cold cases
    TERRY HATTAWAY went missing about 30 yrs ago.
    Steven Davis shot in parking lot with no results of the murderer.

  3. I’m glad they caught the guy.

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