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Officials seek information on cold case

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

RUSSELLVILLE -- The Putnam County Sheriff's Department is asking for help on a cold case from 2003.

In August 2003, Bernadine Webster, 89, Russellville, was the victim of a suspicious death. Officials believe it to be possible murder.

The reclusive woman was never married and reportedly had no surviving family. She also never let anyone into her home, according to reports.

On Aug. 13, 2003, her neighbor, who was designated "first contact" by Lifeline in case Webster activated the panic button on her Lifeline pendant, drove by and noticed a strange vehicle at her residence.

When the neighbor arrived at her home, Lifeline was calling. They told the neighbor Webster had activated the panic button but said nothing.

The neighbor rushed back to Webster's home to find the strange vehicle had left. Meanwhile, Lifeline was attempting to contact Webster via her pendant. No contact was made, but voices could be heard in the background, according to officials.

When the neighbor arrived, they found Webster lying on the floor. She was then rushed to Putnam County Hospital, but died several days later. Webster had sustained head injuries, however, autopsy results revealed evidence of blunt force trauma to her chest as the cause of death.

Due to Webster's home being in a rural area and overgrown with shrubs, it was difficult for any witnesses to notice suspicious activity. Webster was noted for never letting anyone into her home regardless of their relationship with her. Despite her rural setting, she also always kept her doors locked, officials reported.

"What really happened remains a mystery," Putnam County Sheriff's Dept. Det. Mike Biggs said. "The intruders may have believed the home to be vacant due to the outside appearance.

"When they found (Webster) there could have been an unexpected confrontation."

A cold case team formed by PCD, under the direction of Biggs, has pursued leads in several west-central Indiana counties as well as at least two other states. Some of these leads have not panned out while others remain open. Various theories have been considered as well.

Five years have passed and the cold case team believes someone has to know what happened to Webster.

"To assume that the untimely death of Bernadine Webster is not forgotten, a reward for information leading to the resolution of this case has been offered from within the community," Biggs said.

Anyone with information regarding the case is urged to contact Biggs at 765-653-1910. An anonymous tip line has also been made available for the case at 1-800-381-6111.

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