It's been 30 years since the Fort Wayne community was shaken when The News-Sentinel's editorial page editor Dan Osborne and his wife, Jane, and their 11-year-old son, Ben, were found beaten to death as their 2-year-old daughter and sister Caroline sat in the Harrison Hill area home for more than two days before the bodies were found.
Four months after that horrific discovery, the Fort Wayne Police Department arrested Calvin Perry III, 18, after he confessed to not only the murders of the Osborne family, but also 14 other assaults, rapes and burglaries. However, just days after his arrest, Perry was found hanged in his jail cell before trial, leaving behind a note saying he hadn't killed anyone. His death was ruled a suicide.
The community felt it was denied the lawful conviction it was looking for.
But, nonetheless, for the Fort Wayne Police Department, the Osborne murder case is closed and has been since the death of Perry in 1983. A screwdriver recovered from Perry III's home about three blocks from the Osbornes' and a bloody footprint matching one of his shoes conclusively linked Perry to the Osborne killings, then-Allen County Prosecutor Stephen M. Sims said. The screwdriver matched marks on a window that was pried open in the Osborne home the night of the attack. Perry, in a confession, had told police about the use of the screwdriver and said it was in his South Clinton Street home, according to Sims in news coverage at the time.
However today, the advances in police technology can take a crime similar to the Osborne murder case and alter the entire outcome.
In the late 1980s, just after the 1983 Osborne murders, federal, state and local police agencies began establishing a DNA database used to ensuring accuracy and fairness in the criminal justice system. This system, called the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), can also compare crime scene evidence to a database of DNA profiles obtained from convicted offenders.
To take advantage of the potential of the DNA databases, states began passing laws requiring offenders convicted of certain offenses to provide DNA samples. Currently, all 50 states and the federal government have laws requiring that DNA samples be collected from some categories of offenders.
According to Indiana Code 10-13-6-10, that means anyone convicted of a crime against another person or burglary is required to give a DNA sample. The court can also issue a warrant for a DNA sample for any suspected person.
Other states are adopting a new law to allow DNA testing upon booking. However, Indiana has not passed such a law.
Michael Joyner, public information officer for the Fort Wayne Police Department, said looking at advances in technology can offer new insight into murder cases similar to the Osborne murders.
“If we (would) have discovered bodily fluids that potentially could have been a fingerprint or specific marker to Mr. Perry, we would have issued that warrant allowing us to collect his DNA, thereby doing a cross-match. I don't know that back in 1983 we were testing DNA. I know we were collecting fluids, but I don't think science was at the level it is today that we can readily go in and look for a DNA discovery,” Joyner said.
The first Indiana trial that included DNA evidence resulted in the 1989 conviction of Frank Hopkins in the rape and murder of activist Sharon Lapp in her Rudisill Boulevard home.
Joyner added that obviously, no matter the decade, anytime the police are investigating a crime scene they are aware of the potential of recovering hair or body fluids that would provide them with information, not only to find a suspect, but to understand who was there.
“The documentation of the crime scene is so different than the '80s. We took still photographs for the most part back then but today we not only take still photographs, but also video. In some cases, we are using laser technology to document a crime scene and that gives us a 3D aspect of a crime scene. That technology was not available before but today it's part of the tools we can use to help document a crime scene and help with the investigative process,” he said.
However, that doesn't mean that running DNA tests works perfectly. Around the country, there are still institutional kinks that need to be worked out, such as the backlog of unanalyzed tests, lack of appropriate and updated technology, training of staff members and the development of new, faster processing methods.
But in some ways, not much has changed for police investigations.
Patt Kite was a sergeant with the Allen County Sheriff's Department at the time in the early '80s. Today, she is an investigator and deputy coroner with the Allen County coroner's office.
Kite said from an autopsy standpoint, the Osborne case was handled much as it would be today.
“For an autopsy, the cause and manner of death is something that would be determined then in 1983 as it would be now, but there might be other ways to analyze or trace evidence,” Kite said.
If the Osborne murders happened with today's 21st century technology, DNA could have been used to solidify the police department's closed case by a court-issued DNA sample warrant. But with the early death of the confessed suspect, many in Fort Wayne are still looking for the closure in a gruesome case that ended too quickly.