July 15, 2002 12:00 PM

Carol Jenkins, a young black woman, wanted to make a good impression at her new job selling Collier’s encyclopedias door-to-door. So when her boss assigned her to work the neighborhoods of Martinsville, Ind.—then a mostly white town known to be hostile toward blacks—early on the evening of Sept. 16, 1968, Jenkins, 21, made no objection. Within hours the worst thing that could happen did: Someone plunged a screwdriver into Jenkins’s heart and killed her.

For years the murder went unsolved, to the anguish of her family. “She had a beautiful personality and a wonderful smile,” says her stepfather, Paul Davis, 74. “I can’t imagine why anyone would want to snuff out her life.” Actually, like many blacks in the state, Davis was certain that racism was the motivating factor, and he vowed from the start to see that Carol’s killer was found. Now, more than 33 years after the crime, those efforts have paid off with the arrest of a suspect. “This doesn’t heal the wound,” says Davis. “But I feel that God brought us too far now for justice not to prevail.”

Carol grew up in nearby Rushville, Ind., a mostly white community where racial tension was not an issue. “Everyone got along,” says Davis. Carol was an infant when her mother, Elizabeth Jenkins, who was newly divorced, met and married Davis, a local factory worker. The couple went on to have five children of their own, to whom Carol became a beloved big sister.

After graduation from Rushville High, Carol worked at a factory before signing on with Collier’s. Davis says his daughter was well aware of the history of Martinsville, which as far back as the 1920s had been a hotbed for the Ku Klux Klan. Indeed, as she made her rounds that September evening, she at one point asked a friendly homeowner to call the police to check out a car with two young men that had been following her. The cops found nothing, and at 8:45 p.m. witnesses saw Carol walking along Morgan Street, a main thoroughfare in town. Minutes later a resident heard a scream and another saw a car speeding away, just as Carol collapsed to the side-walk. In the days after the killing the police said they were unable to come up with any clues, and the investigation soon stalled. Davis, by then divorced from Elizabeth Jenkins, took on the burden of prodding authorities into action. He demanded that the FBI be called in to help, but says the local police rebuffed him. “I felt that because she was a black girl, nobody did anything,” says Davis.

Over the years he continued to speak about the case, hoping to shake loose some information. Nothing happened until June 2000, when Carol’s mother, now 75 and living in Indianapolis, received an anonymous phone call from a woman who said she had seen the killing and gave the name of the alleged killer. That lead was enough for Davis to hire a private investigator, which prompted the Indiana State Police to assign two detectives from its Cold Case Team to launch a new investigation.

Police soon got a new break. Last November an anonymous letter arrived stating that a man named Kenneth Clay Richmond was the killer, and that his daughter Shirley, who was 7 at the time, had witnessed the crime. Police quickly located Shirley McQueen, now 40 and married. She told the police everything. According to her affidavit, she described sitting in the back of her father’s car on the night in question, as her dad, Richmond, whom she characterized as a bitter racist, and another man she did not know hurled slurs at a young black woman. Suddenly, she said, the two men jumped out of the car and chased their victim. Richmond plunged the screwdriver into her chest while she was held from behind. Then the men returned to the car laughing, saying, “She got what she deserved.” On the way back to their farm, Richmond gave his daughter $7 and told her not to tell her mother what she had seen.

It turned out that the original letter had been written by Shirley’s former sister-in-law Connie McQueen, 46, in whom she had confided. In May police arrested Richmond, 70, who was living at a nursing home in Indianapolis. He has denied any involvement in the murder but has a long history of confinement to psychiatric hospitals for violent behavior. As for Davis, there is only partial satisfaction. “There is still another man out there who was involved in Carol’s murder,” he says. “I won’t rest until I find out if he’s dead or alive.”

Bill Hewitt

John Slania in Martinsville

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