TERRE HAUTE — The 46-year old cold case killing of a 19-year-old Indiana State University student in 1972 has been solved, largely by the determination of a detective who wasn’t even alive when the crime occurred.
Shawn Keen, now the Terre Haute chief of police, explained in detail Monday the years of investigation into the killing of Pam Milam, whose bound-and-gagged body was found in the trunk of her car on the ISU campus in September 1972.
DNA technology not available in the ‘70s was used to identify Milam’s killer as Jeffrey Lynn Hand, a 23-year-old delivery man who traveled the Midwest and happened to be on the Indiana State campus on Sept. 15, 1972.
Keen said he believes Hand randomly picked Milam as his victim as she returned to her parked car following an on-campus party.
“I think he intercepted her,” Keen said.
According to police and media reports, Hand would later be implicated in two other abductions — one of which also began in Terre Haute and also ended in a death.
“He was parked somewhere in the area,” Keen said of that night in September 1972. “I think that’s why he parked her car in another lot, to get back to his own car.”
Keen delivered a calm presentation of the facts in the Milam case on Monday afternoon in ISU’s Hulman Memorial Student Union – just a few dozen yards from the spot where Milam was abducted.
“We’re at the epicenter of all of it,” Keen said as he stood among the sisters, relatives and friends of Milam.
“I’m not sure we ever thought we’d be able to get here today,” said Charlene Sanford, Milam’s oldest sister, about the resolution of the case.
She thanked Keen for his “persistent and meticulous” investigation, saying the wait has been a long: 46 years, 7 months and 20 days.
“Shawn Keen is one of the most wonderful people on this planet,” said Sheila Milam, who was with her father when they found Pam’s body. Her parents, Charles and Helen Milam, died without knowing who killed their daughter.
The case in ‘72
Evidence recovered by investigators in 1972 showed Milam had been taken to a wooded location and assaulted. She was bound with clothes line and tape that had been used in decorations at a fraternity rush party she had attended.
Milam had taken those items with her back to her car. She told friends she was going to move her car from the parking lot near the “men’s PE (physical education) annex”, where the party occurred, to a lot closer to Lincoln Quad, where she planned to stay with her Sigma Kappa sorority sisters.
Her friends told police they last saw her about 11 p.m. Sept. 15 as she left Holmstedt Hall on her way to her car.
Milam’s father Charles and sister Sheila, who were looking for Milam after she was reported missing by friends, found the young woman’s body in her car truck on Sept. 17, 1972.
Keen said Hand was never among suspects in the crime.
At the time, investigators focused on another man who was later convicted of abducting other ISU students in November 1972.
That suspect, Robert Wayne Austin, repeatedly denied killing Milam. He served 20 years in prison on the other kidnappings before being released.
Using the DNA profile of a stain on Milam’s blouse, investigators checked for a match to Austin. He was cleared of the Milam homicide through DNA testing.
Enter Keen, new technology
That left Keen, who became a THPD detective in 2001, with an unsolved homicide that would puzzle him for the next 17 years.
Other checks for DNA matches with known criminals did not return any matches. And fingerprints found on Milam’s glasses and on her car did not match any suspects on file.
When Keen became chief of detectives in 2008, he divided the department’s cold case files among the detectives. He said he kept the Milam case himself because it was the oldest of the cold cases.
He took the case files home and spent countless hours reviewing notes and tracking down the 56 males who were interviewed in 1972.
In 2008 he got a partial DNA profile of a suspect from the rope used to bind Milam using a new technique called “touch” DNA.
“I tried everything I could think of,” Keen said.
And that led him to familial DNA testing, which would allow anyone who had submitted DNA to a database to be linked to other family members. Privacy laws, however, at first thwarted that search.
In 2017, Keen learned about phenotype testing, which could predict a suspect’s appearance by analyzing a DNA sample. With assistance from Joanna Johnson of the Indiana State Police crime lab, samples from the Milam case were submitted.
Keen said he learned the suspect probably had brown eyes, medium brown hair, and intermediate to dark skin. That led him to pull arrest records from 1969 to 1974 in search of suspects who had been arrested for violent or sex crimes.
He narrowed the field to 106 possible suspects. There, Keen’s hopes seemed dashed, but more advanced testing was still to emerge.
In 2018, Keen connected with Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company in Virigina. Their work showed the suspect as a man with blue or green eyes, blonder hair and light skin.
Parabon also submitted a genetic data profile from the crime scene DNA that was compared to a public genetic genealogy database. A genealogist constructed a family tree with possible common ancestors.
In February, that information led Keen to the Vincennes and Washington, Indiana, areas — and to the widow and sons of Jeffrey Lynn Hand.
Keen said Hand’s family was very cooperative and submitted their own DNA samples for testing.
Solved, but not done
The results, Keen said, indicated a 99.9999 percent match of the suspect DNA to the father of Hand’s sons.
From Hand’s widow, Keen learned her young husband had distributed record albums throughout Indiana and Illinois. And that would have taken him through the Terre Haute area on multiple occasions.
In fact, just months after the Milam homicide, Hand was arrested in 1973 after picking up two hitchhikers from Terre Haute on their way to Evansville.
In Gibson County, Hand pulled a firearm on the hitchhikers and tied up both victims before taking the male victim to Posey County and violently killing him, Keen said.
Hand would be found not guilty of that murder by reason of insanity in a jury trial conducted in Monroe County after a change of venue from Vanderburgh County. He was set free in June 1976.
Hand was killed in January 1978 in a shootout with police in Kokomo, after he attempted to abduct a woman in her car.
“I think he is probably guilty of other violent crimes,” Keen said of Hand.
“I’m hoping that through the news media, other police agencies will hear about this case and look through their cold case files to see if they have anything in this time frame that could be connected to Hand,” Keen said after the news conference.