BLYTHE, Ga. (WJBF) – This upcoming Valentine’s Day marks 40 years since someone entered Barbara S. Jefferson’s Richmond County home, stabbing and torturing her to death. Despite decades passing with no arrest, her family refuses to give up hope that they will one day see justice.
“You don’t know if they’re coming back. That was our fear,” said her niece, Rebecca Sims Edwards. “That whoever did it was coming for us. We just didn’t know.”
Devastation tore through this South Richmond County family in 1982.
“I think for about two weeks we were terrified that they were coming after our whole family. Nobody was safe,” said another niece, Regina Sims.
Twin sisters Regina Sims and Rebecca Sims Edwards were only 11 when someone murdered their aunt, Barbara Ann Spear Jefferson. It was Valentine’s Day and the family had just all gathered to celebrate a loved one’s upcoming wedding.
“I just remember how beautiful she was in that dress and how happy she was,” Sims said.
The Blythe mother of two adult sons was twice divorced and living on her own. She worked several jobs; Savannah River Plant, University Hospital and Maxwell House in the pharmacy. And she had just been hired by DuPont. She grew up in Dearing, Georgia with her parents and siblings. Her brother John William Spear recalls growing up with his older sister, who was already married.
“The best recollections always came from the time during the summers when I would go down to visit them in Sarasota, Florida,” John W. “Jay” Spear, her brother, told us.
He enjoyed playing with his sister’s sons, just a few years younger than him and eating her best Christmas dishes.
Spear added, “The main thing she could make was icebox fruitcake, that and pecan pies.”
After her divorce, Jefferson left Florida, remarried and relocated to Pennsylvania. Her brother does not remember anything suspicious in the weeks and days leading up to his sister’s death. Spear said she led a private life, but her nieces remember a life that included daily conversations with their mother Sylvia.
“They had a system where they would call each other and say hey, I’m home. But she called back to tell her a joke,” Edwards recalled.
Her mobile home was just around the corner from their house, so they saw her often. But after that exciting time at the wedding shower, Regina and Rebecca’s mother had what may have been the last conversation with Jefferson. Because what happened next was no laughing matter.
“I heard this pounding on my front door and screaming. I went to the front door and it was Sylvia and she grabbed me and she said ‘Barbara’s dead. Call the cops,’” friend Sharon Yoho remembers.
Jefferson’s sister Sylvia and her husband Robert Sims went to check on her at her home off Highway 1 during the evening of February 14, 1982. Longtime family friend Sharon Yoho, who made that call to 911, told us her husband followed Jefferson’s sister back to the home to help police locate where the murder happened.
“I knew something desperate was going on and the quicker we acted, the better chance they had of finding somebody or something,” Yoho said.
She said she cared for young twins Regina and Rebecca who remained unaware of the tragedy that hit their family for the rest of the day. Now, after nearly 40 years of watching their mother work with law enforcement to investigate, a torch they now carry, they know more than they can bear to understand.
Edwards said, “It was unusual for her bedroom door to be closed at all and the bedroom door was closed. When my mom went in, she thought she had hemorrhaged or something. When you went into the bedroom, the bathroom was to the left. She immediately turned to the left to check to see if she was in the bathroom and the door was locked.
Edwards added her father kicked in the bathroom door and that’s where they found Jefferson.
“There was a tub full of water, but she was on the floor wrapped in an electric blanket,” she said.
Cold Case Project learned from family that Jefferson was stabbed more than 30 times. Her phone line was cut and the murderer wrapped it around her. And that electric blanket she was wrapped in was left on. Investigators told them no break-in occurred, so she more than likely knew her killer and let him or her inside. They also report that it did not appear a robbery took place. But Edwards says some small items were taken, a gun, a coat and a purse.
This article from exactly one year after the crime in 1983, shares investigators questioned around 100 people, but no arrests were made. And all leads, much like now, led to a dead end. The family shares their theory on what took place.
“She was a very early riser and it’s our theory that she had gotten up to work in her garden and she had went back in to take a bath, possibly to come over here, and she was interrupted in the process of running her bath. And put on a house coat to answer the door,” Edwards said.
40 years later, there are still a lot of unknowns for this family. So, NewsChannel 6 sat down with Richmond County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division Major Patrick Young. While he was not an initial investigator on the case in 1982, he was working for the sheriff’s office at the time. He shared how the investigation more than likely went back then.
“That would have been normal procedures to canvass the neighborhood, talk to neighbors, talk to family, talk to coworkers, talk to friends,” Major Young said.
He added now that he has put his hands on the case, it’s technically reopened. So we shared with him some vital information about Jefferson’s murder. Loved ones told us the large knife used to kill the 43-year-old, taken from her kitchen, was left behind with fingerprints. With new technology, Young said there is hope.
“We would have to locate them again,” he said. “If they are AFIS quality, they can be put into the system, which AFIS runs it nationwide on everybody who has been arrested.”
AIFS or Automated Fingerprint Identification System is a computerized storage of fingerprints that came along in 1986. Major Young said it is widely used by law enforcement and could help in the Jefferson case if those prints can be found on the murder weapon, the quality is good and the person who committed the crime was arrested. Another helpful clue police could not test in ‘82 is DNA, but that depends on if any was collected at the scene back then. The system is called CODIS, an acronym for Combined DNA Index System.
Major Young also said, “That is the system used by the FBI Crime Lab, the GBI Crime Lab, to identify a person’s DNA.”
While both of these pieces of technology are just a glimmer of hope for Jefferson’s loved ones, they won’t stop working to find out who committed this brutal act and why.
“Come forward,” Sims said. “Even if it’s anonymous. Just say something.”
“It would mean a great deal especially with getting on in age like I am. I’d like to know something,” her brother pleaded.
Anyone with any information about the murder of Barbara S. Jefferson should contact the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office at 706-821-1000.
Next time on the Cold Case Project, we take you to McDuffie County where Robin Reeves Standridge was stabbed to death in her home and found on February 28, 2001. What family and law enforcement need to get justice and close the case.
Photojournalist: Regynal Mckie