MARIETTA - It's been nearly 30 years since 36-year-old Belpre mother of five Cathy Farmer Gill was murdered, her body dumped from a bridge into the Ohio River.
But for Gill's sister, Faye Farmer, closure may finally come soon when a third individual implicated in the case, Gary A. Gibson, could be indicted by a Washington County grand jury.
Two other men have served prison time for their roles in the murder but Gibson, a longtime suspect, was never charged, though he has been serving a life sentence in prison in West Virginia for other crimes.
Faye Farmer holds a photo of her sister, Cathy Farmer Gill, who was murdered in 1984. (File Photo)
Washington County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Mark Warden said the sheriff's office has presented a case for grand jury consideration, although he wasn't sure when it would be presented.
Warden said he didn't know why the case was moving forward now. Mark Johnson, the detective assigned to the case, declined to give details before the grand jury met.
Washington County Prosecutor Jim Schneider also declined to comment on the case.
Farmer said she has been asked to testify before the grand jury Tuesday. Indictments are expected to be reported later in the week.
Farmer said she first approached the Washington County Sheriff's Office when Gibson came up for parole for the first time in 2010, prompting them to take another look at the case.
According to court records, Gill asked Gibson, Richard Starkey and Steven Scott Carmichael - who were casual acquaintances - for a ride home in 1984 after a night of drinking at a Parkersburg tavern.
Instead of taking Gill home, the three took her to an apartment at 1011 Campus Drive in Belpre where they allegedly took turns raping her. She was then choked to death with a broom handle and her body dumped from a bridge into the Ohio River. Her body was never recovered.
"All murders are terrible but that was a very violent murder," said Warden.
In 1986, two years after Gill went missing, Starkey and Carmichael were both convicted of rape and murder, but Gibson was never charged.
"My recollection is that the two men who were convicted were convicted mainly on their confession. They were both terrified of Mr. Gibson and would not give testimony against him," said former Washington County prosecutor Mike Spahr, who originally handled the case.
In order for the confessions to be entered into a trial, the government had to establish proof of a crime. To that end, the Washington County Sheriff's Office made many unsuccessful efforts to find Gill's body.
"I give a lot of credit to the sheriff's department for the effort they put in to gather evidence for this case," Spahr said.
According to the West Virginia Department of Corrections, Gibson remains at Huttonsville Correctional Center with his next parole hearing on Oct. 1, 2013.
He is serving a life sentence after being convicted as a recidivist and given the sentence in 1985, following a 1978 conviction for voluntary manslaughter, a 1982 case in which he pleaded guilty to burglary and a 1985 burglary conviction.
He was also convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, along with four other inmates, following the 1986 stabbing murder of a fellow prisoner. The conviction was overturned on appeal after it was determined he hadn't received a fair trial because inmates who testified for the prosecution wore civilian clothes while inmates who testified for the defense wore prison attire.
Gibson's parole has so far been denied, but Farmer said she was told Washington County officials would present his case to a grand jury for indictment if he came up for parole.
"Two of them went to prison and Washington County agreed they would indict the third one if he ever came up for parole. I've blocked his parole for the last three years," Farmer said.
Starkey was released from prison in 2006 after serving 20 years while Carmichael remains in custody, where he has been since 1986.
Farmer said if Gibson is indicted by the grand jury next week, it'll come with a touch of irony.
"Cathy would've been 66 (today), the 27th," Farmer said. "Happy Birthday to her."