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Indiana detectives update cold case after 43 years

(WISH Photo, file)

MISHAWAKA, Ind. (WISH) — Decades after the case ran cold, detectives with the Mishawaka Police Department Cold Case Unit have discovered new evidence for the 1980 murder of a St. Joseph County teen.

Mishawaka Police made the announcement in a release Tuesday, saying suspects in connection to the death of 15-year-old Shelley Ann Werner, from Osceola, Indiana, had been determined.

On June 16, 1980, Werner was abducted from the parking lot of a former Wilt’s Grocery Store in Mishawaka. That’s fifteen minutes east of South Bend.

Ten days after the abduction, Werner’s body was discovered a mile west of US 31 in St. Joseph County near abandoned railroad tracks. Werner’s autopsy determined she died of a gunshot wound, and police further ruled her death as a homicide.

Several agencies collaborated with police on Werner’s case, interviewing individuals based on nearly 150 tips given by the community. A composite sketch was also made of a potential suspect seen entering Werner’s vehicle at the supermarket, but officers were still unable to identify any suspects.

Eventually, officers ceased investigating Werner’s case.

Decades later, a witness came forward with information regarding Werner’s murder, identifying three suspects connected to Werner’s death. The witness told investigators they originally didn’t come forward out of fear of retaliation against their family.

Through conversation, investigators learned that Werner had been familiar with the three men the witness identified as suspects, but learned that over the years, two of the suspects had passed away and the third disappeared.

With this information previously unknown to detectives, they revived the investigation into Werner’s abduction and murder.

In January 2022, the Mishawaka Police Department developed a Cold Case Unit, comprised of former homicide officers from South Bend, to investigate unsolved homicides that occurred within the city, which included Werner’s case.

Investigators located additional witnesses and uncovered more evidence, all of which corroborated the first witness’s statement. It was also discovered that the third suspect that had previously disappeared passed away in 2018.

The evidence and statements gathered by investigators were presented to the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office, and the evidence against the three suspects was determined to be conclusive. But as the three suspects are deceased, police could not present any charges.

Mishawaka Police Department will hold a press conference concerning their findings at 10 a.m. Wednesday. The department also expresses its deepest sympathy to Werner’s family.