"It's been too many years ago. It's like she was swept under a rug and forgot about it. Nobody has tried to find her killer." - Friend of the family

In January, I first met Gary, Darlene's brother, through Facebook Messenger. I had stumbled across the Justice For Darlene Russell Facebook page. What first caught my eye was the picture of a beautiful girl with a smile as big as Texas. Darlene also possessed a certain sparkle and warmth in her eyes I can't articulate with words, but so strong it showed even in a picture.

Then I began to read her story, the story of a brutal murder I have shared in my previous editorials. It hit me hard, and I knew I had to offer any help I could provide. I messaged her brother Gary, who is desperate to find answers about his sister's death. 
Gary responded right away and shared more with me about his sister.

"That's great. My sister Darlene was murdered and raped back in ‘81. I've had a meeting with ISP detectives out of Pendleton to go over some things and see If I could get DNA done on the clothing she had at the time of her murder... I'm her brother."
After reading his response, I could feel the lump rise in my throat. He was so passionate about finding justice for his sister he was robbed from knowing past 10. I could only reiterate how willing I was to help. Gary continued.

"I would really appreciate that very much. I work 50 /60 hours a week full-time job, and trying to work on getting closure for my sister is a lot to take on, but I'm not giving up nor backing down." Gary and I became friends at that moment, and it was unsaid we were in this together. 

Since then, Gary and I have been working together to find clues. My first task was to "meet" Darlene. By meet, I mean learn everything I could about her. I have talked to her closest friends, neighbors, and anyone else who wanted to share memories about Darlene. This research is necessary for me with any story because to tell it with accuracy and feeling, you have to engage and put yourself in the situation. So, here is what I have learned about Darlene.

"She was very caring, likable, giving and easy-going enjoyed hanging with friends. She would help anyone out if she could've." - Gary Russell
"Darlene trusted too many people. She was such a friendly person. She loved everybody." - Friend of the family

She was one of 12 siblings. The family moved from Kentucky to Connersville to a small house south of 1st Street in Connersville. The small space and 12 kids was a house full. The group spent a lot of time outside hanging out with friends with that many in the home. Everyone I spoke with told me how close the family was, and everyone knew the Russell kids. There was quite an age gap from the older children to the younger siblings. Another friend shared how the baby of the family, would beg Darlene and her friends not to leave, yelling at them the whole way out the door.
After learning so much about her, I went to the spot she was found. I was overwhelmed at the thought of this sweet girl everyone loved being attacked with blunt force to her head and ultimately dying from a knife wound to her throat. Then so carelessly left along a fence line, with her jeans on the fence. As I left that day, I was more committed than ever to help.

Gary and I have only met in person twice. The first time was just to meet and talk about Darlene. Who she was and what Gary thought the possibilities were surrounding her death. We spoke for roughly four hours. He was holding in four hours of anger, sadness and love for his sister. This past Saturday, the second time we met to put Darlene's cross in the ground where she was found Sept. 22, 1981. We had perfect weather. It was 70 degrees without a cloud in the sky. I put her name on Gary's wooden cross he built in the area he cleaned out and finished with gravel and mulch around her cross. Gary and I stood side by side on the road as friends standing in silence, looking at the cross when our work was completed. My mind was racing for the right words to comfort and encourage Gary as I watched him gaze at the cross. The best thing that came to mind was, "Gary, you know if this is never solved, you have done something. You have honored her and brought her back to life in some ways. You haven't forgotten her, Gary, after 41 years." He nodded his head.

Since starting the series, many have asked why this is so important to me? Usually following up with, "After all, it has been 41 years." I struggle to find a response that will explain because it is the words of her friends and family that struck me and made it so important to me.
"It has hurt for so long. Yes, her mom was so hurt she had cried for hours and hours for days. My heart broke for her too." 
"I just feel the older I get, I want to try and get closer on sister's case. It's not like I've never thought of doing it before... I went to where she was found a while back. And something just kept coming to me that I need to try to do something about her case."
"One night, I had a dream about Darlene. She came up to me and was talking and showed me where her throat had been cut, but in my dream, she had lived and had a scar that wrapped around her neck."

Darlene was real. She was 21-years-old and excited about all the life that lay ahead. She was a daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, girlfriend, and friend to so many. Darlene was important to these people. She mattered and still does.
How could I not help?

On Monday, March 7, the Wayne County Sheriff's Department released the supplemental case report completed by the initial officers on the case. In addition, it provided all the first interviews conducted immediately following Darlene's death. Part of the information police gathered the days following Darlene's murder will be shared in next week's editorial.