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Looking for closure in unsolved murder of Lorraine 'Lori' Zimmerman

Mother would 'be the happiest person in the world' if the case could be closed

April 28, 2013|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com
  • Sandra Volneck of Hagerstown holds the photo of her daughter, Loraine "Lori" Zimmerman, whose murder at the age of 15 remains unsolved nearly three decades later.
By Jennifer Fitch

Sandra Volneck has faced many challenges over the years, but the hardest thing she ever had to do was look at her 15-year-old daughter’s battered, lifeless body before closing the casket and burying her.

“I wouldn’t wish that on nobody. I’ll never get over it,” Volneck said last week. “Never.”

Twenty-nine years later and recovering from surgery for lung cancer, Volneck still does not know who killed her only child.

Maryland State Police recovered Lorraine “Lori” Zimmerman’s body from a wooded area outside Boonsboro in April 1984. The case remains open.

“The case was reworked a little while back, but it didn’t lead us to a suspect,” state police Sgt. Richard Bachtell said. “We’re continuing to work every lead that comes.”

Lori, nicknamed “Blondie” by classmates, spent only one night in her family’s new home in Hagerstown before disappearing. Her mother put her in a taxi headed to South Hagerstown High School on the morning of April 6, 1984, and never saw her again.

“When she wasn’t coming in that door at four o’clock, I knew something was up,” Volneck said. “It really hit me hard.”

A week later, two people walking near Reno Monument Road found Lori’s partially clothed body under cardboard and leaves. The girl had been beaten and strangled. Her jewelry was smashed.

“Nobody deserves that,” family friend Barbara Cushwa said.

One of the first investigators on the case was Keith Wattenshaidt, who since has retired from the Maryland State Police. He continues to think of Lori almost every day.

Wattenshaidt expressed frustration about not being able to file criminal charges in the case.

“I’ve got my suspicions, but that does no good,” he said.

“I think in the past decades, there were a lot of hopes that were dashed,” Bachtell said.

In order for police to be able to close the case now, someone probably would have to provide new information, Wattenshaidt said.

“The evidence that was collected, we went through it several times,” he said.

Investigators believe the killer is alive and in the area, and they believe other people have information about what happened, Bachtell said. Anyone can provide information by calling 443-463-2164, he said.

Volneck said she feels she was missed out on a lot of experiences — graduation, a wedding, the birth of grandchildren — she could have shared with her daughter.

“I feel like I was really robbed pretty bad,” she said.

Lori spent most of her time in her mother’s care after her parents divorced. Her father since has died. Lori’s best friend as a teenager also died recently, as did several former investigators and a psychic who worked on the case for the “Unsolved Mysteries” television series.

Now, science might be used to partly fill the knowledge gaps created by those losses. Emerging DNA-related forensic testing holds potential for the evidence collected, Bachtell said.

One of the most recent angles pursued by police involved similarities to a Pennsylvania case.

In April 2010, law enforcement authorities recovered skeletal remains from a farm in southern Franklin County, Pa. Dental records and DNA testing identified those bones as those of Angie Lynn Daley, who was 17 when bludgeoned to death in 1995.

Jeffrey Eldon Miles Sr. allegedly confessed to killing Angie and police have charged him with criminal homicide in her death and a second case. He is awaiting trial. An affidavit of probable cause filed in court alleges that the former Hagerstown resident told investigators he beat Angie with a 2-by-4 board about three times.

Like Lori, Angie’s body was moved from the place where she originally was attacked.

Maryland State Police’s fresh review of Lori’s case after Angie’s remains were found did not result in criminal charges being filed.

Sandra Volneck said she would “be the happiest person in the world” if the case could be closed, although she would much prefer her daughter still be alive.

“I wish so much she was here today, and I’d just hold her on my lap like a little newborn baby,” she said.

Instead of holding her child, Volneck visits her grave at Rose Hill Cemetery. She often sits and talks to Lori’s spirit.

“Sometimes, I’ll just walk by, and I’ll say, ‘I wish you were here, baby. I know you can’t be, but I just wish you were and we could have our good times back,’” Volneck said.

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