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Double Homicide Remains Unsolved 35 Years Later, Family and Law Enforcement Reach Out to FBI

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It has been 35 years since two girls from Dover, Tennessee, were found dead in the Land Between the Lakes. And the case remains open.

Friends and family of Carla Atkins and Vickie Stout gather at the Stewart County Community Center on a cold, drizzly Saturday evening to pay tribute to the girls’ memory. Bands play in the front of the room while people gather around tables in the back. At the entrance, visitors are greeted by white-framed pictures of the girls. Carla and Vickie were 14 and 16 respectively when they disappeared in September of 1980. Law Enforcement thought they were runaways until their bodies were found 18 days later on October 5th.

Michelle Sills was seven when her cousin Carla disappeared. “Days went by, years have gone by and still we have no answers. Still no answers. We tried and tried and tried,” Sills said. “That’s why we’re doing this today. Cause there’s no answers and we gotta rattle the cage. So maybe somebody, somebody, will speak up about it.”

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This gathering of family and friends is not the only attempt to focus attention on the case.  It has been in the news for a while.

From a Nashville-based News Channel 5 report from the late 1980’s.

“Both had been killed with a 12 gauge shot gun, one of them probably shot twice. Almost nine years later, the case file remains open. Police now believe they know the identity of the killer but simply don’t have the evidence needed to make an arrest.”

Now, it is 35 years later and there has still been no arrest, which has people pushing for the FBI to get involved.  

“I have been told that people know who did it… You know, I wish I knew. I wasn’t living here at the time,” said Trish Gordon, the girls’ older sister. She says the same rumors about her sisters’ deaths have been floating around since 1980. But she says law enforcement has not looked into every lead.

“Yes it’s been 35 years. It’s a cold case. At this point, they need to be looking into and taking every small piece of information they can get. Hopefully it will lead somewhere. You know, people continue to talk, then someone needs to be listening and then cipher through and decide what’s fact, what’s real, what can be used, and kill off some of those rumors and hopefully go in the right direction,” Gordon said.

David Ross is a native of Stewart County and a journalist. As a young reporter on the crime beat, Carla and Vickie’s case is one of the first he reported on. He has followed it ever since. He calls it his “white whale.” Ross has been a driving force behind the recent attempt to get the FBI involved.

“There is a mistrust of law enforcement on this case. I will say that,” Ross said. “That’s one of the big reasons it’s important for the federal authorities to become involved. The local jurisdiction and the TBI has had this case from the outset. Perhaps they’re too close to it.”

District Attorney General Ray Crouch has been working on the cold case since he was elected to office last year. In that time, he says he has picked up on the mistrust of law enforcement and general fear of speaking about the case.

“And I don’t really understand where that comes from. I mean, I don’t live in Stewart County. I hate that that’s an issue and I hate to think that that might be an issue that is slowing down this case or preventing it from being solved. But I don’t know. I don’t know what to say about that… But again, to me that is really just a collateral issue that doesn’t help the case at all. I mean, I’m focused on the case, not why people don’t want to communicate with police,” Crouch said.

In February, Crouch, Ross, and Gordon all sent letters to the FBI requesting its involvement with the case. The Bureau said the FBI is standing by to offer whatever assistance is federally authorized. Crouch says a member of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation told him recently that an FBI agent has been assigned to assist with the investigation.

“They bring in a lot of additional resources that we don’t have funding or access to. For example, it’s a very costly undertaking to track down witnesses. Having [the FBI agent’s] assistance will make some inquires a lot easier,” Crouch said.

Also, as far as Crouch knows, this January was the first time a grand jury has heard testimony regarding the double homicide. Crouch says he wanted testimony from some people of interest in the case under oath. From here the 35-year-long investigation continues. Crouch says the next step is to rework the case starting at square one.