Catching a killer: Detectives work toward cold case conviction

Every place has secrets. Sometimes they’re hidden beneath layers of beauty. That’s the case in Clarkston, Washington.

The truth is buried there, in evidence boxes and in a teenager’s grave. The truth has been hidden in one killer’s mind for 28 years, too. It’s Clarkston Police Detective Sgt. Bryon Denny’s job to uncover the truth of Toni Ann Tedder’s murder, in a small town along the Snake River.

“On July 28, 1990 at 5:00 in the morning, Toni Ann Tedder was murdered at her house here in Clarkston,” Denny said.

Denny is working to find out who thrust a knife through the teenager’s heart three days after she turned 18. She was sleeping in her living room that hot summer morning, right next to her sister. Someone stabbed her twice through the heart.

“I mean, it was pretty brutal. It appeared they knew what organ they were trying to get,” Denny said.

Police didn’t find much DNA evidence that night, even though the knife used was left behind. Most of what authorities said they had to go on was the description from a terrified sister in the worst moment of her life. Everyone was a suspect, including Toni Ann’s father, Jimmy Tedder.

“I agreed to a lie detector test right at the beginning and Officer Campbell looked at me when it was over and said I believe you killed your daughter,” Tedder said.

The father of six couldn’t believe it then and now he thinks targeting him may have allowed his daughter’s killer to go free for 28 years.

“There’s two guys that my family and I have got it narrowed down to, or we think we do,” Tedder said.

But, Mr. Tedder and his family don’t have much hope for justice. He called the local police incompetent. His daughter Lara-Ly Hendrickson said there’s one big issue with the case every detective faces.

“One of the things it seems to come down to every time is they cannot find anybody with a motive. There’s no reason to kill her,” Hendrickson said.

Even Sgt. Denny admits that he doesn’t know why someone would murder this honor roll student known for her athleticism and community involvement.

“Toni Ann was always busy. She didn’t let any grass grow. She lived 100 years in her 18 years,” Tedder said.

Twenty eight springs have passed since Toni Ann was laid to rest. Her family still thinks about that July morning and where the killer may have ran to after leaving Toni Ann to die.

“I’ll direct one statement to the killer,” Tedder said. “Regardless of who you are, you need to remember that God will never, ever forgive you until you ask for forgiveness, plain and simple. So, young man, whoever you are, you’re hell bound unless you do.”

So many questions remain that have been turned over by a new detective every few years. Now, it’s Sgt. Denny’s turn, with some help from Washington State Patrol. While authorities want to arrest the killer, the Tedders believe justice can come in another way.

“I’m content with the fact that God knows who did this. He knows why he did this. He knows what is going to become of it and I can leave it at that,” Hendrickson said.

But, Sgt. Denny can’t leave it at that. He’s still searching for answers no matter how far he has to dig.

“The evidence back then, when it was tested, we didn’t have near the technology that we have now. So, we have a lot of advancements that are helping us out,” Denny said.

Every grainy photo and worn document gets the detective closer to answering a decades-old secret and to finally solving a crime haunting Clarkston.

Maybe if he can solve this case, Toni Ann can finally rest in peace.

“We have some pretty, what we think, are big leads that we are working on. So, we are pretty hopeful,” Denny said.