Teacher teams up with student to solve cold case
Andrea Hefferan | Online Editor
It’s been over 20 years since University of Cincinnati student Alana “Laney” Gwinner disappeared. Forensics teacher Randy Hubbard and junior Evan Fletcher are determined to find out why.
Fletcher and Hubbard were investigating unsolved crimes, or cold cases, when they stumbled upon the case of Laney Gwinner, who was a 23-year-old accounting student at the University of Cincinnati. In 1997, Gwinner disappeared after leaving a bowling alley. Her body was found in the Ohio River a month later.
“On December 10, 1997, (Laney) was at Gilmore Bowling Lanes in Fairfield, Ohio, playing pool,” Fletcher said. “Then she left to go to her boyfriend’s house, but she never showed up. Then it’s really a mystery from there what happened to her. We don’t know who killed her, where she died. I mean, there’s not even really a crime scene to go off of, so there’s really not much evidence. That’s why it’s gone cold.”
Hubbard said he was first drawn to the case because of his connection to Fairfield. As time progressed, he also became dedicated to keeping it in the public eye.
“I graduated from Fairfield, so I’m from that area,” Hubbard said. “I’ve been to that bowling alley when I was a kid, so I just got excited about it. I was thinking that we would just use it to learn how to talk to people that were involved with the case, not realizing that we were going to get brought in to the point where now it’s become a mission. We want to make sure the story gets out.”
Both Hubbard and Fletcher have spent a lot of time on the case. They started investigating first semester and worked for hours after school finding sources and leads.
“We stayed for several weeks until five, six, seven o’clock at night, depending on when people could talk to us,” Hubbard said. “Sometimes we’re throwing ideas at each other and we look up and it’s 7:30. We’ve probably spent a good hundred hours or so working on it.”
For Hubbard, it was difficult to discern the relevant information from all the two found about the case. He said following through on every lead has proven to be one of their biggest challenges.
“The hardest part is the different leads because you start to get an idea and have things that go through your mind at different times, but you have to try to follow them all,” Hubbard said. “That’s why I think a lot of times police departments get a bad rap because cases go cold. The problem is that leads sometimes go nowhere, and there’s so many of them. They have to just keep starting over.”
Fletcher and Hubbard talked to a variety of people to gain more information on the case, from police departments to water rescue teams to Gwinner’s family and friends. Most people have been open and willing to talk to the pair about the case. Even those closest to Gwinner have been surprisingly supportive of their investigation, Hubbard said.
“Family or family members and friends have been great,” Hubbard said. “They just want the story to keep going. They want to keep it open so that somebody may see or remember something or somebody told them something.”
Hubbard and Fletcher began investigating the case because of the new Forensics: Cold Case class that will be taught next year. The two hope to implement what they have learned from the
investigation into the class itself.
“The new class is going to be focused
around solving and working on cold cases or missing persons,” Fletcher said.
“We’re going to use some of what we’ve learned from doing this case for this class: some of the techniques that we’ve learned; contacts that we’ve made that are willing to help us with the class from different police departments, coroners, and offices.”
The people Hubbard and Fletcher talked to with a connection to the case were not only excited the story was resurfacing, but also that the pair were going to use the case as an educational tool.
“The interesting part is just being able to talk to all those individuals and how excited they were that we’re actually doing it as a class,” Hubbard said. “They were saying that that kind of education is difficult to get and we don’t do it soon enough And they’re wanting kids and
students to start to get those ideas now. So when they go into the field now, they already have a background.”
Despite putting so much time and effort into investigating the case, Hubbard is unsure if the case will ever be solved. He hopes, however, that he and Fletcher will be able to add a new perspective to the case.
“When you go into things like this, you really can’t say that you’re going to find a conclusion because we’re not experts,” Hubbard said. “The police have their own information that they’re not going to give us because it’s an open case. We hope to find something that somebody will remember or that the police can check out that they didn’t know back then. Will we resolve the case? I don’t know. It’s been cold for 20 years for a reason. We hope so, but I don’t know if we can or not.”
Photo by Henri Robbins.