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Missing jewelry hoped to unlock St. Petersburg cold case

ST. PETERSBURG — Bonnie Hawthorne used to love scary movies and devoured Goosebumps books as a kid.

She shared an affinity for suspense with her grandmother, who also liked stories and was known to read a novel a week.

But for Hawthorne, mysteries lost their appeal on April 18, 2002 — the morning a neighbor found her Grammie stabbed to death.

"I can't read things like (Goosebumps) anymore," said Hawthorne, 29. "I can't watch. ... It's not fiction anymore. It's fact."

Police are still looking for Patricia Gertsch Hodges' killer, 11 years later.

Her family has gotten used to the heartache. But as the anniversary of Hodges' death passed once again this year without an arrest, they began to try out a new feeling: hope.

Thanks to improvements in DNA technology, police say, there is a "viable suspect" in the Hodges case. But to really crack things open, investigators say they need someone to talk.

"I think we're so close … but we have to push," said St. Petersburg police Detective David Wawrzynski. "This may be our best shot."

Investigators hope reminding the public about Hodges' story — and releasing new details about the crime — will prompt someone to come forward.

"Somebody knows something," said Sue Heeman, Hodges' daughter and Hawthorne's mother.

Hodges was 64. She didn't drink. She didn't have a lot of money. Her life centered on her five children and her grandchildren.

She lived alone in an apartment at 6100 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N. Police didn't find any evidence that anyone forced entry into the home. The door was locked.

The attacker attempted rape, police said. Investigators said the scene was brutal.

When the shock began to fade, the family realized something else: Hodges' jewelry was missing, a detail that until now was not made public.

Sue Heeman said her mother always wore a ring and a necklace with the phrase "No. 1 Mom" or "No. 1 Grandma."

Hodges' family wonders if the killer snatched the items.

"They either pawned it or that's his trophy," said son Shawn Gertsch, 45.

Over the past decade, Hodges' family has offered rewards and pleaded for information in front of cameras. Police found suspects and then ruled them out as leads dwindled.

"It's not like she died of cancer or an accident. Somebody took her from us. We didn't get to say goodbye," Shawn Gertsch said. "We just sat there for hours, waiting for police to tell us who it was. They never did. It's a living nightmare. A living nightmare."

Wawrzynski got the case in late 2010.

He's working homicides for four years, and before that he investigated child sex crimes.

All murders are "unacceptable," Wawrzynski said. Yet in many ways, Hodges' case became more personal.

"This one's just different. My boss worked on that crime scene," he said. "There's very little in her lifestyle that would indicate the potential for homicidal violence. There's nothing Pat Hodges was doing that night that someone wouldn't want their own mother to be doing. And she got killed. ... This is a real victim. A true victim."

Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact police at (727) 893-7780.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@tampabay.com.

Missing jewelry hoped to unlock St. Petersburg cold case 07/28/13 [Last modified: Sunday, July 28, 2013 10:50pm]
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