Gary Akers went missing in December 1989 leaving behind a wife and five small children.
Just before his disappearance, Gary and his wife had been shopping when he left to gather wood for their wood furnace. The family lived in rural Franklin County.
Gary then stopped at Mom’s Hilltop Tavern in Grubville for a six-pack, and was never seen nor heard from since. He was 31 at the time of his disappearance, and employed at the Chrysler plant in Fenton.
Now Akers’ case, and several other cold cases, are again being investigated by the Franklin County Cold Case Squad, comprised of one full-time investigator and three seasoned, highly skilled investigators with extensive law enforcement experience who volunteer with the Cold Case Squad.
Franklin County Sheriff Steve Pelton told The Missourian the unit is investigating several cases of unidentified persons, nine homicides dating back to 1988 and six missing persons cases also dating back over 30 years.
“To me, this is worth it, even if we don’t solve the case,” he said. “We still are committed to the cases and we want to give peace of mind to the families of the victims and the officers who worked the cases over the years.”
Akers’ family has continued to search for clues to Gary’s disappearance. In 2014, Gary’s brother, John, and his wife, Shelba Akers, contacted The Missourian in an effort to keep the case in the public eye.
“We don’t believe he’s alive at this time,” John said at the time, “but we think there is somebody who knows what happened.”
It is for families like the Akerses that the Cold Case Squad began.
“These victims deserve justice and we are doing what we can to get that done,” Pelton said.
Franklin County Chief Detective Chuck Subke oversees the squad along with Pelton and Maj. T.J. Wild.
The squad was formed in mid-2018 to work the cases that are unsolved after a specific period of time, typically one year, as well as those with no identifiable leads, Pelton said.
Investigators may investigate other types of cases as deemed worthy by department heads.
Pelton added the cold case investigations begin with the squad reviewing a case to determine if new technology or new evidence exists that may help solve the case. Cold cases are generally reviewed every time additional information about the case becomes available.
Investigators in cold case investigations utilize the newest technologies and employ community policing partnerships when working cases, Pelton further added.
For example, recent advancement in DNA technology and other forensic techniques have allowed cold case investigators to reopen latent cases.
“Scientific advances make a good opportunity to take another look at these cases,” Pelton stated.
Investigators often inventory evidence and seek information from the investigators who were previously assigned to the case, and will work closely with forensic scientists.
During the cold case investigation, the squad also reinterviews witnesses who may have feared repercussions if they talked during the initial investigation.
“This systematic review of cold cases allows investigators to assemble and deploy resources and increase their chances of success,” Pelton said.
In addition to a current detective, the cold case investigators have a combined total of over 115 years of investigating experience.
The squad includes retired Franklin County Sheriff Gary Toelke, who has a total of 41 years in law enforcement. That includes 28 years as sheriff, eight years as chief deputy investigating countless numbers of homicides, missing persons and unidentified persons.
Also on the unit is retired St. Clair Police Chief Tom Yoder, who was the first full-time detective with St. Clair police. He served as chief for 16 years. Yoder also worked for seven years in the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department detective bureau where he was commander for one year.
He also worked undercover for one year with the sheriff’s office.
Another member of the squad is retired Pacific Police Department assistant chief and captain Larry Cook who has a total of 24 years in law enforcement. He was a detective and assistant chief in Pacific for 13 1/2 years. Cook also worked with St. Louis County departments in Pine Lawn, three 1/2 years, and Kinloch, two 2/2 years.
Pelton noted that the passage of Prop P last year allows for additional resources that frees up detectives to assist with cold cases.
“Right now the detectives so busy, I don’t know without Prop P we could have done this,” Pelton said.
There will be three detectives added to toe department through Prop P, pending the approval of the sheriff’s department budget.
According to Pelton, the squad’s responsibilities include:
• Interviewing witnesses, family members and suspects;
• Evaluating the validity of new evidence “hits,” such as new DNA evidence or anonymous tips;
• Contacting victims and family members when there is new information;
• Following a specific course of action, including obtaining new DNA samples and collecting new evidence;
• Building a new case to present to the prosecuting attorney; and
• Utilizing internal/external resources, such as the medical examiner’s office and internal or external criminalist or other specialist (fingerprint, firearms, forensics, etc.)
Other detectives within the cold case unit come from federal agencies, such as the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Marshals office.
The squad utilizes the Violent Crimes Apprehension Program and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, as well as national and state databases, such as the National Center for Analysis of Violent Crimes, Missing Persons (Clearinghouse), and Missouri State Highway Patrol and DNA databases
Investigators must be able to prioritize their cases to include instances when witnesses can identify a suspect and there is new information or evidence in which can help identify suspects.
Another priority investigation is one that the initial investigation had witnesses who could previously not be located or who need to be re-interviewed
Another task for the unit is to preserve evidence that can be processed and analyzed through modern technology.
Anyone with information regarding a cold case is asked to contact the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office at 636-583-2560 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or contact Capt. Chuck Subke at 636-583-2560, ext. 204.