A photo of Sharon Ward is atop a picture of her with her siblings. Sharon was 17 and a sophomore at Waite High School when her body was found at the edge of a snowy field in Oregon on Feb. 28, 1982.
The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
She died crawling, trying to escape the snow-covered cornfield where she had been dumped and left for dead.
Seventeen-year-old Sharon Ward was hit twice on the head; her wrists were slashed. Her attacker walked away likely knowing that the Waite High School sophomore was alive and that she didn’t stand a chance of staying that way.
“It was a personal thing. It was, ‘You’re going to suffer,’” Karen Jones said as she recalled her friend’s death.
“The slit wrists were absolutely symbolic,” the teen’s older sister, Patty Ward, said. “It was, ‘I’m going to leave you here and you have a chance to live. Are you strong enough to make it?’ ”
The teenager’s body was found Feb. 28, 1982, a Sunday, about 20 feet from the edge of Jacobs Road, near Wynn Road, in Oregon.
Despite numerous tips all pointing to the same man and recovered DNA, the pieces never all fit.
Now, 31 years later, after being contacted on Facebook by Mrs. Jones, Oregon police Sgt. Kelly Thibert and Detective Janet Zale are reopening the department’s only cold case, hoping a renewed effort will bring results.
“We’d love to give this family some closure,” the sergeant said. “She was just a 17-year-old kid. Certainly justice has not been served for her, which is sad.”
The Ward youth was the youngest of four children. When she was a year old, her father died of a heart attack, leaving her mother to raise three girls and a son on East Toledo’s Poplar Street.
As the youngest, Sharon “was my mom’s baby,” Patty Ward said. “She could do no wrong. She was as spoiled as you could be to be dirt poor. Dirt, dirt, dirt poor, but she was spoiled.”
The high school student was popular — friends with everyone, Mrs. Jones said. She was a tomboy who loved to work on cars.
During the blizzard of 1978, she pushed vehicles out of the snow for $5.
But she was no angel. She ran away from home at 15, said Ms. Ward, who also remembered her sister breaking into the Greek Festival to steal a bottle of Ouzo.
So when Sharon didn’t come home Saturday night or Sunday morning, Ms. Ward, then 20, thought her sister was just being a brat. The girls’ mother reported the teen missing at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
The family knew she had boarded a bus in downtown Toledo on Saturday to spend the afternoon at her grandmother’s Point Place home.
That night, she visited her boyfriend at the North Toledo garage where he worked. She planned to get a ride home from the 28-year-old mechanic, but once his truck wouldn’t start, she took off down North Superior Street to catch another bus back to the east side.
That was the last time anyone who knew Sharon saw her alive.
A Blade carrier and his wife were delivering the Sunday paper along Jacobs Road, then sparsely populated with only three homes, when they saw a body in the snow. He called authorities from a home on Wynn Road.
The body was soon identified by Oregon police as Sharon Ward. They found her fully clothed — she wore light blue jeans, a blue button-up shirt, red nylon jacket, striped tube socks with footies over top, and tennis shoes. The teen’s bus card and cash were undisturbed in a pants pocket. The gold-colored teddy bear charm she wore around her neck hadn’t been touched.
Investigators determined the girl was killed at the field’s edge from blood in the snow and signs of a struggle.
What police do not know is how the girl got there, or how long she went undetected.
“The coroner told us that the snow coagulated the blood a little bit,” Ms. Ward said. “There was nothing that could stop it, but because it was so cold and because there was snow on the ground, it slowed down the bleeding and gave her some time.
“But that’s just time to think, ‘I’m going to freaking die here,’ ” the sister said.
During the autopsy, the coroner’s office found DNA, though not necessarily from a suspect. The evidence told officials the girl was alive about 12 hours before she was found.
Once the death became public, numerous Crime Stopper tipsters called in, all naming a man who was a prospective member of a former North Toledo motorcycle club.
The tips mainly came from women associated with the club — some say they saw the teen outside talking to the man, some said they saw her inside the club.
The man, who also lived on Poplar Street at the time, was not cooperative with police in 1982 and disappeared for a while after the investigation started, Sergeant Thibert said.
In 2003, when the case was briefly reopened, a detective obtained a search warrant for the man’s DNA, which did not match the DNA taken from the teen’s body.
The man also took a polygraph test with a private company in Michigan, but the results were never forwarded to Oregon police.
“I don’t want to say he’s been ruled out,” the sergeant said. “He may be a good suspect still. … Just because his DNA doesn’t match doesn’t convince me he didn’t kill her.”
Once she learned of a possible motorcycle-club connection, and not convinced police were doing enough, Ms. Ward started her own investigation, visiting any bar where she noticed motorcycles parked outside.
“I was smart enough to not ask [if they knew about the death], but I was also going to tell them my name,” Ms. Ward said. “Because if you did it, it would ring a bell. You’d know, hopefully, who you killed.”
Sergeant Thibert and Detective Zale have read through the entire case file and started last week to listen to recorded interviews and the original Crime Stopper calls.
They’re still in the process of compiling every bit of information and evidence from 1982 and 2003.
“We could have just tested the DNA again and moved on,” Sergeant Thibert said, “but we started reading the file and, for us, she’s close in age. She was only 17. She was a kid. Somebody’s daughter, somebody’s sister.”
From one minute to the next, Mrs. Jones changes her mind on whether there will be a resolution.
“This week has been a roller coaster of, ‘They’re going to find something, it’s going to happen, somebody is going to come forward and say he did it,’ and then the next minute I’m like, ‘They’ll never find anything,’ ” Mrs. Jones said.
Oregon police ask anyone with information about the case to call Sergeant Thibert at 419-698-7102 or Crime Stoppers at 419-255-1111.
Contact Taylor Dungjen at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.