Serial Killer Zamastil Down, Many More To Go
The Conviction Of A Serial Killer Is Great, But Thousands Of Unsolved Murders Remain In Arizona, U.S.
William Zamastil in an official Wisconsin prison photo.
By John Monahan
Special for Modern Times Magazine
Aug. 3, 2011 — Anyone who read or saw last week that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was able to get another murder conviction on serial killer William Zamastil must have celebrated. The man was a scourge who ended lives in the late 1960s and 1970s from his home state of Wisconsin and throughout the west.
His conviction last week was from the kidnapping, rape and murder of Leesa Jo Shaner, who he abducted from Tucson International Airport in 1973. Shaner left her family home May 29, 1973, to pick up her husband from the airport, who was an airman with the U.S. Air Force, but when he arrived he could not find her.
The car she drove to the airport was later found in the airport parking lot with the driver’s window halfway down, the car unlocked and her purse inside on the back seat. Despite an extensive search, Shaner could not be located. In September 1973, Shaner’s remains were found in a shallow grave on Ft. Huachuca, Ariz.
The case went cold but her family, father and the FBI — who had jurisdiction because the body was found on a military base — never gave up. They searched for evidence and leads but came up empty until Zamastil bragged to a fellow inmate in 1979 about the killing.
It took more than 30 years for the conviction to be garnered, mainly because Zamastil did not openly claim responsibility and evidence was lacking. Eventually, DNA evidence was able to link Zamastil to Shaner’s body.
“The FBI is extremely gratified by this verdict,” Phoenix Division FBI Special Agent in Charge James Turgal, Jr. said. “While there can be no real justice for Leesa Jo Shaner’s family, at least they were able to witness her killer being called to answer for his crimes.”
Turgal also said that Shaner’s mother, husband, son, and three sisters, nearly all of whom reside outside Arizona, were present at each and every day of the trial. Unfortunately, the man most responsible for Zamastil’s conviction — former FBI Special Agent James Miller — died in 2007.
Miller was Shaner’s father.
While it is great that Zamastil is being held accountable for his brutalities, the events also bring to the fore the large number of unsolved murders that fill cold-case files throughout the country. Arizona is especially burdened, solving a mere 61 percent of all murders between 1980 and 2008.
According to a Scripps Howard News Service study of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, roughly 185,000 cases of murder in the U.S. went unsolved from 1980 to 2008, according to a Scripps Howard News Service study of the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. In Arizona during that time, there were 9,827 murders and only 61 percent of them were solved.
That leaves more than 3,791 families who will never see their loved ones receive justice.
That is just unacceptable.
In 2007, Attorney General Terry Goddard created a Cold Case Task Force to address the issue. The only thing came out of it was SB 1274 in 2008 which made the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission the clearinghouse for cold case best practices and victim communications.
But many still claim the real problems have not been addressed, mainly insufficient funding for investigators and the state crime lab — although the passage of a sales tax increase via Proposition 100 in 2010 did alleviate the problem a bit.
Doesn’t the state owe its murdered residents a bit more than a mandated effort to solve their deaths?
The Shaner case, though, was a personal matter for the FBI. Special Agent In Charge Turgal said the FBI “never gave up” and worked almost 40 years to solve this case and that all the FBI agents assigned to the investigation over the decades “worked their hearts out” to bring this matter to a successful conclusion.
Do those killed who do not have a direct tie to law enforcement have such a devoted group of investigators looking to solve their murders?
Probably not, but it is mainly due to the fact that politicians and the police do not have will to employ the appropriate manpower or resources for these cases.
The next time a politician talks about immigration, drug or prostitution laws, ask them what is more important, a border crosser, a drug dealer or a murderer?
John Monahan is a freelance writer from Connecticut.