BECKLEY, W.Va. — On August 27, 1981 Cynthia Miller, 27, of Beckley was probably busy and nervous. She was making the last minute preparations for her wedding which scheduled for the following day. It was a ceremony which never happened. Miller, a teacher in the Raleigh County school system, was brutally murdered in her Beckley home.
Her fiancé, Gary O’Neal went to Princeton that night to visit his father. He called Cynthia repeatedly, but she never answered. He made the gruesome discovery when he returned to Beckley. He found his wife-to-be shot four times in the head and shoulder.
Police at the time had leads, but none ever panned out. As time passed, the tips and leads became fewer and fewer. Eventually it was a case which remained open, but the trail had gone cold.
“I always call them ‘simmering’ cases. They’re never really cold. Those original detectives are still around and I’ve worked with them for many years. They never forgot the murder of Cynthia Miller and it haunted them,” said Raleigh County Prosecutor Kristen Keller.
A feeling of accomplishment came with last week’s indictment of a California prison inmate by the Raleigh County Grand Jury. He was charged with the murder of Miller nearly 40 years later.
“Last week, the Raleigh County grand jury indicted Earl James Robbins for five felony counts. Count one charges him with the first degree murder of Cynthia Jane Miller who was killed on August 27, 1981 in Beckley,” Keller said in unveiling the indictment Tuesday.
Since the case was taken straight to the grand jury, Keller and members of the investigative team were very limited in what they were able to say about the investigation or most aspects of the case. It’s unclear if Robbins and Miller had a previous relationship. Authorities have also not revealed a potential motive.
“By law, grand jury proceedings are confidential and not open to the public. That’s why we’re so limited in what we are allowed to say. By law, we’re not allowed to disclose what information was presented to the grand jurors to result in the indictment,” she said.
Fresh eyes were put on the case in 2017 as part of a cold case unit established by detectives from the Beckley Police Department, Raleigh County Sheriff’s Department, and the West Virginia State Police. Detectives and offices have worked on pieces of the case in between current investigations for the better part of three years. According to Keller, the diligence paid off, but she added the strong police work immediately after the crime also made a difference.
“They were able to take advantage of new techniques which were not available in 1981. But, I’m so proud of the police department because they have preserved essential evidence for all these years. It’s been preserved and can be used,” Keller added.
Robbins, now 64, is presently housed in Valley State Prison in Chowchilla, Ca. He’s serving time for a 2005 conviction of assault with a deadly weapon in which he was convicted of attacking his brother-in-law with a claw hammer. He was later charged and then convicted of an unrelated sexual assault. The sexual assault conviction resulted in a life prison sentence.
Along with Cynthia Miller’s murder in West Virginia, the indictment charged Robbins with the abduction, kidnapping, and first degree sexual assault of a child in Raleigh County in 1980. Keller said those crimes were unrelated to the Miller case, but were discovered in the investigation of her death.
“We’re hoping with the indictment having been returned there might be people who were reluctant to speak previously. As often happens, only when there is publicity generated members of the public pick up the phone and call,” she said.
The next step will be to bring Robbins back to West Virginia to face the charges. Keller said it would be complicated, but not impossible.
“Extraditions have radically changed since the coronavirus. Some states are no longer coming to pick up their criminals, so that absolutely has an effect on the process,” she said.
Keller commended the work of all law enforcement in the investigation both to bring the case back to life, but also to those who processed the crime scene the night it happened.
“It’s not law enforcement’s fault when there is insufficient evidence. Sometimes, it’s just what evidence is available,” she said.