A family was stunned and a community mobilized following the tragic and brutal murder of a 9-year-old Centralia girl.
Lewis County Sheriff’s deputies and Centralia police responded to west Chehalis where two men from Pe Ell found the girl’s body, blood-stained and lifeless with signs of strangulation and assault.
Sherry Edgell was abducted from her home and murdered 50 years ago today, on Sept. 25, 1959. Her case was never solved.
It isn’t over for one Oregon resident.
For the last 18 years, 67-year-old Jeanne Wolff has carried a binder overflowing with case files, newspaper clippings, photos, maps and names in an ongoing effort to solve Edgell’s murder.
When Wolff was a senior in high school, she said she lived right down the street from Edgell’s home at 616 S. Tower Ave. She didn’t know the girl well, but later realized what she called an unexplainable drive to find the truth.
Wolff wiped tears from her face Wednesday as she described her frustration in the cold case.
“Whoever did it has now gone on 50 years without talking,” she said. “I’m hoping someone will come forward and tell us the real story.”
Though she now lives in Salem, Ore., Wolff continues to work with the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office as her own investigation turns up new information. The case is one of about 10 unsolved, active homicide cases in Lewis County, and Sheriff’s Detective Bruce Kimsey said he’s still very interested in leads.
“If anyone has any information, I’d still love to talk to them,” Kimsey said. “We get cases all the time where people hold information because they think it’s already taken care of. If nothing else it would be nice to put the case to rest.”
Only one person was ever arrested and charged in the case. Evidence from the autopsy led police to the then 29-year-old Kenneth Schilling of Olympia, who tried to flee the state immediately after the body was found, according to Chronicle stories at the time. Schilling was later acquitted of first-degree murder for “lack of evidence,” Wolff said.
With Wolff’s help, Kimsey said he’s narrowed the current investigation down to a handful of suspects, some of whom he expects have died of old age. He and Wolff said there’s no reason to give up now.
Wolff said a lot of questions went unanswered following the events of that night:
Edgell’s mother reported her daughter missing at about 9 a.m. the following morning when the girl wasn’t in her room asleep and didn’t return home, according to Chronicle articles from that week. She told police she found the back door open and the 14-year-old babysitter asleep when she first arrived.
The mother said she was not worried because she assumed Edgell was at her grandma’s home nearby, which she often frequented at night. By the next morning, a community-wide hunt began for Edgell.
Two men would later find her with her neck cut open just out of view near the Chehalis-Centralia Airport.
Since she started the investigation in 1991, Wolff has come across new suspects, witness accounts and key details not already reported in newspapers or police reports of that time. Now, she’s asking for the public’s help.
If anyone has even a small bit of information on this case, Wolff said, get in contact with her through Chronicle staff at 807-8208 or detective Kimsey at the sheriff’s office, 748-9286.
“I do this because I haven’t achieved my goal — no one’s been convicted,” she said. “I have to do it for her. Fifty years is sort of the last ‘hoorah.’ (The murderer) must be coming up on 70 years; there’s not much time.”
Two key people she wants to interview may still be in the area, she said. During her investigation she found that two men had accompanied the babysitter’s sister to the home on the night of the murder, and were never questioned. She wants to find those two and talk with them to get closer to the truth, she said.
“I can’t really explain the compulsion to get this done,” Wolff said. “What happened is so wrong. I just hope people that have information about a girl who was murdered so brutally would step forward.”
Even if all incriminating signs point to a dead man, the solved mystery of Edgell’s death would ease the hearts of all those involved, Wolff and Kimsey agreed.
Help Solve the Murder
Jeanne Wolff, a former Centralian still inclined to solve the case, made a public plea that anyone with information about the case get in contact with her or detectives.
If anyone has even a small bit of information on this case, Wolff said, get in contact with her through The Chronicle at 807-8208 or Lewis County Sheriff’s Detective Bruce Kimsey at 748-9286.
Andy Campbell: (360) 807-8208