Tulsa woman murdered while trying to sell her wedding dress in 36-year-old cold case

Posted at 5:32 PM, Apr 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-27 19:43:50-04

TULSA -- It's a cold case so old police worry all of the important characters could be dead. 

"Patricia Denise Palmer, 19, was found at 12:45 p.m.," a mother read the newspaper article following her daughter's murder. 

Patricia, known to her family as Denise, had turned to her mother Pat just days before her death to say how perfect life was. 

'Life is almost too perfect,' she told her mother Pat Carlile. 

Denise had no idea the perfection she felt would turn into a less than perfect ending. 

“She’d advertised in the newspaper that she was wanting to sell her wedding gown, wanted to get some money," said a retired doctor who worked the case John Watson. 

She was a newlywed married to her husband Randy for only six months. 

“When she put the ad in the paper we had not gotten any calls from it until that day," said her mother Pat. 

The ad was buried in a Sunday edition of the "Tulsa World." 

“He had a real nice voice and yet there was just something that - you know when you’re having a wedding you’re excited, and you’re pumped up and all that - he didn’t have that kind of voice.”

A man who police later got a sketch of told Pat he wanted the dress for his daughter. 

“I just had an uneasy feeling, as soon as I hung up the phone I had a real uneasy feeling about him," she said. 

She called Denise and told her to take a friend. 

"She did try to take someone with her and no one could go with her."

At least hang the dress in the foyer Pat told her, so he doesn't have to come inside. 

“I knew what time she’d be home and I called, I go to a phone -- we didn’t have cell phones -- and I would go to a phone and call, and no answer.” 

Something was off. 

“She let him in and he strangled her and raped her," Watson said. 

While the phone rang in their home the unthinkable must've happened. 

“The assault happened in one room, she was placed in a bathtub. The water was still running," said  Tulsa Cold Case Detective Eddie Majors who's now on the case. 

Neighbors who found her told Pat and her husband Van to come home. 

Van remembers the entire block was full of people, police and an ambulance he said was noticeably not in any hurry to get to the hospital. 

“That man killed Denise is what she said," Remembers Denise's stepfather Van Carlile. 

Men working in the neighborhood saw "that man."

“They made note of a car that was in the driveway that they liked. It was a 73/74 Chevy Impala, blue in color, had a CB Antenna on the trunk," said Detective Majors. 

And probably the most notable thing, a mark on his face. 

“Someone’s got to know this person.”

There were multiple times in the past 36 years when police thought they found him. 

"We kind of don't feel he just started this at 65 years old," Detective Majors told 2 Works for you more than a decade ago. 

In 2005 mail carrier Paul Williford admitted to murders of women who were choked near bathtubs. 

"The crimes resemble a cold case from 1981. Patricia Palmer was found strangled in a bathtub," 2 Works for You reported back then. 

Unfortunately Palmer's murder was the one he denied. 

"I'd take a lie detector, anything they want to take, no," Williford told 2 Works for You. 

Nothing stuck for years when TPD handed Sergeant Mike Huff the case. 

"The chief’s office called and said hey, you’re going to the Maury Povich Show tomorrow," Huff said. 

Pat, Van and Huff took Denise's dress and her story to a national stage hoping to catch the killer's attention. 

“This man’s never been found?” Mary questioned the family in shock. 

But still nothing. 

“I’m thinking man, if i knew then what I know now we could’ve really been successful," said Huff. 

“It’s a case that still bothers me," said Detective Majors. 

He's ready to talk to the killer whenever he calls. 

“Yea, or I’ll come visit him wherever he is.” 

However, Pat and Van said they've found something far more valuable than that. 

“The only thing that we know is God knows all about it," said Van. 

Pat said she hopes if he's dead, he's in Heaven. 

“I would want him to know we’ve forgiven him," she said. 

Police said while the evidence doesn't point to it right now, they're optimistic the case can be solved. 

If you have any information call Crime Stoppers at 918-596-COPS.

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