BLUEFIELD, W.Va. — A 45-year-old murder case reached a breakthrough this week thanks to crime lab technology.
On December 28, 1972, parishioner Mary Osborne went to Bluefield’s First Church of God to clean and take out the garbage. Shortly after entering, she was beaten to death with a hammer by an unknown suspect.
Bluefield Police Department records show Osborne’s body was discovered in a classroom by the pastor the following morning. Fingerprints were taken at the scene, but Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler said there were no matches at the time.
It wouldn’t be until September 25, 2017 when authorities would be contact by the FBI Crime Lab with a positive match to Tommie Mollohan, now 75. He is already serving a term for another murder in Kanawha County on January 13, 1973.
“Although there was no immediate match, the crime lab routinely runs comparions in old cold cases to see if they have any match on file,” explained Sitler. “They keep a comprehensive database of people that have been convicted of felonies.”
Sitler said Mollohan admitted to being in Bluefield at the time of the crime but denies killing Osbourne. He claims he was passing through town on a Greyhound bus. The bus station, at the time, was roughly 50 feet from the church. He has an extensive criminal record which includes escaping jail in Mount Airy, North Carolina on a robbery charge and prison twice in West Virginia.
Police now believe Mollohan was attempting to rob the church when Osborne entered. The fingerprint was taken from a sink faucet where he is believed to have washed himself after dragging the body to the classroom.
Mollohan, who is currently being held at Mount Olive Correctional Facility, was indicted this week by a Mercer County grand jury for first degree murder.
Sitler credits the FBI, Bluefield Police Department and the recent upgrades in lab technology for breaking the the 45 year-old case.
“This sort of comparison used to be done manually with a person’s eye. An analyst who just went page-by-page and looked for common traits in fingerprints. Now that can all be accomplished by a computer algorithym. The FBI’s fingerprint center has accomplished something pretty impressive.”
Sitler added Mollohan will be sentenced in court within the next few weeks.