MALAD — A bogus news release from someone impersonating the former sheriff of Oneida County that criticized the current sheriff and county prosecutor for their handling of a 43-year-old cold case was distributed to media outlets in Idaho and Utah on July 24.
Current Oneida County Sheriff Arne Jones says his office and the Pocatello Police Department have launched an investigation to determine who emailed the fake news release to the Idaho State Journal and other media outlets, none of whom published it.
Jones’ predecessor, Jeff Semrad, confirmed to the Journal on Tuesday that he did not send the press release that listed him as the author and he disagrees with its contents.
The email was presented to appear to be an official news release from Semrad and it falsely stated that the former sheriff, who retired in January 2017, has an issue with the lack of progress in the investigation into the abduction and murder of Tina Anderson, 12, and her friend Patricia “Patsy” Campbell, 15, who were last seen at a Pioneer Day celebration at Pocatello’s Alameda Park on July 22, 1978.
The email, sent two days after the 43rd anniversary of the disappearance of the two Pocatello girls, falsely claims Semrad believes Jones “has dropped the ball, sweeping the matter under a rug” and Oneida County Prosecutor Cody Brower “likewise wishes to ignore the case.”
Jones strongly denied the allegations contained in the email and told the Journal his office has diligently worked the cold case to find those responsible for the deaths of the two girls ever since he won the 2016 election and became sheriff in January 2017. Brower, too, denied that he has ever ignored the Anderson-Campbell case and said he would prosecute the case once enough evidence has been collected to warrant doing so.
“If we receive additional evidence that allows me to prosecute this case, I will happily do so,” Brower said. “I think this is a very important case, it’s deserving of the victims that they have this prosecuted and so if we can get the evidence to meet my burden as a prosecuting attorney, I will certainly charge it. But unfortunately, the situation has not changed.”
What has happened in this case in recent years, Jones said, is that investigators have reinterviewed potential suspects and witnesses and the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office has commissioned a digital reconstruction of a partial skull discovered near the girls’ remains and has also located a laboratory that specializes in extracting DNA samples from degraded source materials.
Jones credited Semrad and the staff at the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office, particularly Lt. Patsy Sherman, for the tireless efforts they have put into this case for many years before he became the sheriff.
Semrad said he has been in communication with Jones after learning about the fake email and is hopeful the investigation uncovers who authored it.
The investigation into who abducted and murdered the Pocatello girls during the summer of 1978 remains as open and active as ever, Jones said.
Just north of three years after Anderson and Campbell were reported missing, hunters discovered the partial skeletal remains of the girls in the Trail Hollow area of Oneida County — about 65 miles south and an hour’s drive from the Pocatello park where both girls were last seen alive. At the scene of the discovery Oneida County sheriff’s deputies found pieces of scattered bones, deteriorated clothing matching what the two girls were wearing at the time they went missing, a partial skull with a small hole as well as spent .22-caliber bullet casings, Jones said.
Some of that evidence, however, was lost when it was sent to labs for testing in the 1980s.
While the girls were initially thought to have been runaways, dental records and DNA analysis positively identified the skeletal remains except for the partial skull as having belonged to Anderson and Campbell. The identity of the person the partial skull belonged to remains a mystery.
The partial skull was among the evidence that went missing but was then recovered by the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office in September 2018. It’s been speculated the partial skull could belong to a third person who was abducted and murdered along with Campbell and Anderson.
Jones said this likely third victim is why his office is pulling out all the stops to find out who the partial skull belonged to.
Jones said the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office has had the FBI analyze the partial skull and the Idaho State University anthropology department has completed a 3D digital reconstruction of what the skull would look like if it were complete. Further, the Sheriff’s Office is working with scientists at a Texas-based company, Ortham Inc., which uses forensic-grade sequencing to develop a genealogical profile of the partial skull, said Jones.
He said he plans to use an online DNA database to crosscheck any samples collected during the process of reinterviewing people involved with the case.
Much of what evidence remains is strong, Jones said, but circumstantial, adding that forensic evidence alone has not been enough to warrant criminal charges being levied against any potential suspects.
Semrad during his time as sheriff made several public announcements that the Anderson-Campbell case was all but solved, though his statements never culminated in any arrests.
“(Semrad) announced a few times that arrests would be made and that never happened,” Jones said. “Most of the prosecutors that reviewed the case did not think we had enough to file charges. I think he was frustrated by that, because the prosecutor’s office is ultimately the party who decides to criminally charge someone.”
Jones said some of the difficulty in charging and prosecuting the case is associated with a key witness dying unexpectedly a few years ago after investigative materials had been submitted to the Oneida County Prosecutor’s Office for review.
“We are still moving forward on this,” Jones said. “We lost a main person in this case who had an ability to testify against those responsible. That was Semrad’s main hope — that that person could testify. That’s when we went back to reinterview different people of interest. We are definitely still working on it.”
As investigators continue to gather physical and forensic evidence against those responsible, Jones said at this juncture a testifying witness or a confession would guarantee this case stays cold no longer.
“When it comes down to officials being able to charge people, we are going to have to have some sort of a witness or have the person responsible confess,” Jones said. “Maybe that will happen, but after we interviewed those involved in this case, we found there were several that were cooperative and others that were not. Those other people need to start cooperating. We need a break in this case.”