The smallest piece of evidence appeared to be the big break detectives were looking for in solving the death of a 33-year-old Mishawaka woman found dead outside a tobacco store in December.
Hair fibers found in the hand of murder victim Barbara Sheppard were examined at the Indiana State Police Laboratory in Indianapolis and created a strong enough profile to point to her estranged ex-husband Joseph T. Wayer III as the killer, prosecutor’s allege.
Wayer, 37, of Goshen, was charged with the murder of Sheppard on Wednesday, nearly two months after her body was found Dec. 22 in an alley not far from Low Bob’s Discount Tobacco on the corner of Lincoln Way East and Byrkit Drive in Mishawaka. Wayer is being held in the St. Joseph County Jail without bond.
Sheppard, who worked at the Low Bob’s, died of a massive sharp instrument injury to her neck, police said.
Her death came nine days after Wayer and Sheppard’s divorce became final.
Wayer had been making threats to Sheppard via the Internet, according to a probable cause affidavit released Wednesday. When interviewed by homicide detectives, Wayer reportedly admitted to posting the threats on the Internet, but said he would never hurt Sheppard. He added he had not physically seen Sheppard for a number of months, but did acknowledge he was upset with her, authorities said.
Police said Wayer voluntarily consented to a DNA test, which would become pivotal as the investigation developed.
During the course of Sheppard’s autopsy, Dr. Joseph Prahlow, a forensic pathologist for the South Bend Medical Foundation, found the hair fibers coated in blood in the right hand of Sheppard, indicating she had grabbed the hair of her assailant, pulling some of them out of the assailant’s head, prosecutor’s allege. Those hairs were then sent for DNA testing.
A forensic scientist reportedly examined the hair fibers and developed a DNA profile, and compared it to a number of individuals, including Wayer.
The DNA obtained from the hair fibers reportedly demonstrated the presence of mixtures from which Sheppard and Wayer could not be excluded as being possible contributors.
Further, based up on the strength of the DNA profile obtained, the forensic scientist estimates that the combined probability of inclusion — the best chance of selecting an unrelated individual at random — occurs in approximately 1 in 27 million.
Sheppard’s death came six days before 84-year-old Lois Hickey was found stabbed to death inside her home Dec. 29 in the 300 block of East Donaldson Street in Mishawaka.
Unlike Sheppard’s case, DNA taken from blood at the scene believed to be from the killer has not turned back any positive matches from both state and national databases.
No arrests have been made in the case.