In our I-Team Unsolved series, WCPO will examine homicide cold cases in Greater Cincinnati.
HAMILTON, Ohio -- Detectives working one of the Tri-State’s oldest and oddest murder cases say the victim’s friend, who was shot in the encounter but survived, led investigators down the wrong path.
Nearly 50 years later, two young detectives told WCPO they think they know why someone killed 21-year-old Georgeann Reiter in 1970.
The motive? Jealousy surrounding a lesbian love triangle, according to the detectives.
And they think they know who did it. That someone has lived free in Butler County all these years, they said. But it’s not the suspect the original investigators were looking for.
After the shootings, Reiter’s wounded friend, Melvira Vorbroker, said the shooter was a man wearing a business suit, but she couldn’t identify him. Vorbroker even helped an FBI artist draw this sketch, which police and the media distributed at the time.
But after they reviewed her statements this year, the new detectives rejected them.
“Her recollection of the incident doesn't add up,” Butler County Sgt. Ed Tanner told WCPO this week.
“Her statement seemed kind of movie-like. It didn't seem realistic at all,” Detective Daniel Turner said.
Spurred by a phone call, Tanner said the two investigators only recently started reviewing hundreds of pages of testimony, tapes of interviews, photos from the crime scene and other evidence.
"I recently got a call from Georgeann Reiter's brother. He wanted to make sure that his sister's case was still being investigated,” Tanner said. "So I pulled the case out and we started to review it a few weeks ago. There's someone still out there that needs to be brought to justice.”
Tanner called the Sept. 9, 1970, shootings “very bizarre.”
According to Vorbroker, she and Reiter were driving down state Route 128 in Ross Township at about 1 a.m. They pulled over in the darkness at a roadside park where young people hung out. A man in a business suit approached, showed a gun and marched them to the back of the car, she said.
He demanded the car keys, but the women had dropped them. That’s when he shot them, Vorbroker said.
“There was a lot of speculation in this case,” Turner said. “The case originally took a lot of different avenues.”
Thirty-three years after the shootings, the detective in charge of the investigation, Frank Smith, was still pursuing the man in the FBI sketch. In 2003, Smith told WCPO he thought he had found the killer – a man already in prison for another murder.
“We’ve obtained photographs of him in 1970 and it is a match,” Smith told WCPO then.
Smith said he went to the prison and interviewed his suspect.
“He didn’t admit it, but he didn’t deny it, either,” Smith said.
Smith described Reiter as “a fun-loving girl who liked to be outdoors. She worked at a factory in Cincinnati. She played softball. She was in several leagues here in the city,” he said.
During his WCPO interview, Smith asked people to call in with tips, and dozens did.
“In all the cases that we’ve aired over the years, we’ve never had that many calls come in on a case,” Smith said later.
One tip revealed where Vorbroker was living in Florida. Detectives went there to interview her, and Smith’s investigation changed course.
“At this point, we realize there was more than one person involved in the actual homicide,” Smith said in a follow-up interview with WCPO in 2004. “We know that one of the people does reside here in Butler County.”
Tanner and Turner weren’t on the force then. What they know about the case, they have learned from going over Smith’s files and listening to tapes of various interviews with Vorbroker.
Vorbroker’s interview in Florida in 2004 was especially telling, they said.
“She was being evasive, and with her attorney there, she wasn't giving up much more information,” Tanner said.
“It just seemed like something you would see in a movie,” Turner said. “It doesn't seem realistic. A well-dressed man out in the middle of nowhere? With no car? Obviously something's wrong about it.”
Through all of their research, they came to the same conclusion Smith did: The real shooter could still be living in Butler County after all these years.
But they also said they concluded the shooter is a woman. She would be in her 70s now, if she’s still living.
To bring the killer to justice, the detectives hope someone will come forward with information before it’s too late.
“We need someone to come forward, maybe that heard the conversation about it. Maybe somebody admitted to the crime itself and/or has possession of the weapon, or knows where the weapon is at,” Tanner said.
Times have changed, and people's attitudes toward same-sex relationships aren't the same as in 1970, Turner said.
“There was a lot of embarrassment about those things at the time," he said. “I think people then would rather lie about what really happened as opposed to come clean about what was going on in that park.”
Vorboker hasn’t changed her story, and they don’t expect her to, Turner said.
"Since 2004, every interview she gave with an attorney. She’s definitely sticking to her guns,” he said.
Will someone tell? A death-bed conscience letting, perhaps? Turner hopes so.
“I would like to think if they did speak to someone else at some point -- even on someone's death bed -- they would come forward and say, ‘This person told me this. You might want to check into it,” he said. “I can't imagine someone's out there that has been told information like this knowing that there is a grieving family out there still -- almost 50 years later -- that wants information about their dead relative -- that wouldn't come forward ... And if there is, that’s very disappointing.”
If you knew Georgeann Reiter or Melvira Vorbroker and can give detectives any clues, here's the direct number to call: 513-785-1209. You can also call Crime Stoppers at 513-352-3040.