THE INVESTIGATION BEGINS
The scene had no witnesses, no suspect, so police had to start from scratch.
“They interviewed all these males, college students, and people,” said Terre Haute Police Chief Shawn Keen, “No one ever stood out as this is a really strong person.”
Keen wasn’t even born during the time of Pam’s death, but today, he’s one of the very few who knows her case front to back.
Keen would first be introduced to the case in 2001 as a detective. At the time, he’d learn police had a suspect in mind years before, named Robert Austin.
In November 1972, months after Pam’s death, Keen says Austin admitted to a string of nearby abductions on campus, but never Pam’s.
Though he never confessed, police always suspected him of her death. However, he was already locked away, serving time for previous crimes.
“Police thought hey this is our guy, he’s not going to admit it,” said Keen, “We don’t have anything else, we don’t have any witnesses, so I think it pretty much kind of went away for a while.”
In 2001, with advancements in DNA testing, Keen says they decided to put suspicions to rest. Police sent a sample, from Pam’s blouse to the lab for testing.
“It didn’t match him,” said Keen.
PICKING UP THE JOURNEY TO JUSTICE FOR 11 YEARS
In 2008, Keen was promoted to Chief of Detectives for the Terre Haute Police Department. One of the first things on his list was to divide up cold cases among detectives in the department. Keen took on the Pam Milam case.
“I took it and I couldn’t put it down,” he said.
In fact, Keen would hold on to it for 11 years. The first weekend, Keen says he took her case file home.
“I had it all over my living room floor,” he said, “It was in a very old green binder, but it was kind of organized chronologically, and I wanted to redo it to really focus on the different suspects, persons of interest.”
That alone was a job in itself. Keen says he started from the top, working his way down, 1 through 56, of people suspected.
“The biggest challenges, for me, were back then they only took people’s names,” said Keen, “So John Smith, who lives on Chestnut Street, with this phone number, doesn’t help me 40 years later. No social security numbers, no dates of birth, very few of those.”
In the process of investigating names, DNA testing continued to advance. Keen sent in another sample to be tested. This time, using Touch DNA, which looked beyond bodily fluids.
Keen sent samples from the ropes found in Pam’s car. With those results, it was more of an exclusionary process.
“It wasn’t a full profile that could be compared, but what it could be,” said Keen, “It couldn’t be excluded as the same profile of the semen stain from the blouse. So I knew it was likely the same profile, just partial, so I didn’t have two different people there.”
Based on the nature of Pam’s crime, and the items used in her death, Keen determined it was a crime of opportunity rather than a planned attack. Keen would continue to look at other ways to get a hit on Pam’s case. He pushed for familial testing, but it fell through due to failed legislation at the state level.
Pam’s case also sat in a CODIS system, or Combined DNA Index System, for seven years. Police use the system as a DNA database to link crimes, but no hits in Pam’s case.
Keen put Pam’s case into the Department of Correction Playing Cards. The card stacks feature cold cases and are given to inmates as a way to jog their memory for possible information. That proved unsuccessful too.
Keen even went as far as searching for crimes similar to Pam’s.
“You know, I would do internet searches at night time,” he said, “I’d lay in the bed like there’s got to be something.”
After a series of dead ends, Keen was contacted by the state lab about the possibility of doing phenotype testing. Through DNA, experts can create a profile about the probability of a person’s physical traits, like hair and eye color.
“The initial report came back with brown eyes, medium-brown hair and intermediate-dark skin,” he said.
Using that information, Keen expanded the search by combing through Terre Haute arrest records, going back as far back as 69-74.
There, he found 1,100 arrests during that time frame.
For four months, Keen created his own version of a “point system”.
“I just created a chart where I could go through,” he said, “I said hey ok if they have the same phenotypes, that’s a point for each one. If they have a criminal history that indicates violence, sex crime, that would give them two or three points. I could kind of rate those people.”
“It was a long shot, but I wanted to do it to make use of this phenotype report,” he said.
PIECING IT TOGETHER WITH PARABON
In 2018, Keen read about Parabon NanoLabs, a Virginia-based DNA technology company, which specializes in genetic genealogy.
It’s similar to what Keen was pushing for in familial testing in 2008.
Parabon also offered a phenotype report, like before, which populates physical traits.
“I was really interested in two things they claimed to offer,” he said, “I was skeptical on the composites, which essentially they create a photo of what the person should look like, based on DNA. I didn’t know if I believed in that, but the genealogy part definitely.”
The first sample sent in came back with a poor call rate.
“I was kind of concerned because it had eaten up part of the sample,” he said, “It didn’t have a whole lot left at this point because of all of the testings they’d done.”
“I gave it a lot of thought because if I gave them more, and this doesn’t work out, then what happens two years from now when they have a new testing,” he added, “Honestly, I came to the conclusion that it’s been 46 years, I really think it’s going to work if we give more.”
After sending in a second sample, Keen got results.
“This was probably my lowest point in the investigation,” he said.
That’s because the phenotype results came back with likely traits of green-blue eyes and blond hair, the complete opposite of the phenotype results from a different lab.
“Now I’m like wait a minute, I just spent four months pulling out all the people that had brown hair, brown eyes,” he said, “and now you’re telling me that it’s not. So I was really confused.”
Despite Keen’s reservations, he says Parabon felt strongly about the phenotype results.
“I kept that in mind, but I really wanted to move on to the genealogy part,” he said.
Genealogists were able to track down family ties in the Washington, Indiana area in Daviess County.
Through interviews with various family tree members, DNA samples and Parabon confirmation, further information led to the discovery of Jeffrey Lynn Hand.
WHO IS JEFFREY LYNN HAND?
Hand had a history.
In July 1973, after Pam’s death, Hand picked up a hitchhiking couple at 3rd Street and Interstate 70 in Terre Haute.
“He picked this couple up and they were going to Evansville,” said Keen, “He and his wife, at the time, lived north of Evansville, and he makes a stop at his house and tells them essentially, based on the news articles, that he has to get something and ends up pulling a gun on both of them, tying them up with ropes and puts them in a corn, grain silo on or near his property. He takes the male, tells the wife hey we’ll come back, but he’s getting money and I’ll release you both.”
Ultimately, Hand killed the man in Posey County, but the woman managed to escape and get police. Hand was arrested and put in jail. Because the crimes happened in different counties, Hand had separate trials.
“Long story short, he gets found not guilty by reason of insanity,” said Keen.
Because of that, Hand would be released from jail in 1977, but in January the following year, he’d meet with police again.
Hand died in a shootout with authorities. News articles say he was trying to abduct another woman, this time in Kokomo, Indiana.
Based on an arguably similar composite photo, and the similarity in crimes to Pam’s, how did police know they had their man?
“We determined he had three children, two boys, and a daughter, and that his widow was still alive,” said Keen, “She lived in Vincennes.”
After making the trip to Vincennes and interviewing Hand’s now ex-wife for two hours, Keen learned he had a disturbing history at home.
“There was a history of violence, against her, during their marriage,” he said.
Keen also learned about the string of jobs Hand had. In 1972, one of those jobs included delivering records for a company based out of Chicago.
“He would go pick up records, like music records, and then deliver them throughout Indiana and Illinois,” said Keen, “So that would be his traveling job that would bring him to all of these sites.”
To confirm his identity, through familial testing, Keen asked for a DNA sample from Hand’s ex-wife and two sons.
After sending the samples to the lab the next day, Keen says it came back a match.
“We used the suspect DNA profile as the father,” said Keen, “We knew the mother, so we had that and then we had the two sons. So the DNA, showing both of them as the parents, suspect and in both cases the suspect profile, that we had taken from Pam Milam, with 99.99% accuracy was the father of both of those children. So that’s how we proved, without a doubt, that he was the person responsible.”
At the time of Pam’s death, Lynn would’ve been 23-years-old.
With the look of a college student, Keen says it was easy for him to fit in among the crowd and not be considered suspicious.
“Everyone, in their minds, when they were asked to think back to anybody on campus that night, nobody noticed the person that might fit in,” said Keen, “Everyone was looking for that person that didn’t fit in, and not necessarily someone hey he might’ve been in the area, but he just looks like a college student.”
FINALLY FOUND CLOSURE
It was the call Sam Milam waited almost 50 years to hear.
“I pulled off the highway, into a parking lot,” said Sam, “and this may sound strange, but I think he told me his name and that he was no longer alive.”
“A loss of life is tragic, but at least I knew that this person was not hurting others,” she added.
In May 2019, the public would learn about justice for Pam.
News 10 was there as Keen, and Pam’s sisters addressed the public about the new developments in Pam’s case.
“In a way, I feel like I know him because for 11 years we’ve been on this journey,” said Sam, “I wanted him to know that it mattered, that it was important, what he was doing was important.”
While Pam’s parents died without answers, her sisters take pride in reuniting with the man who found them.
“I wish my parents could’ve seen that because that would’ve also have given them a little more peace in their life,” Sam said.
Keen, who has been with Terre Haute Police for nearly 22 years, says making the call to Sam Milam is the best feeling he’s ever had as a policeman.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to experience anything close to that again throughout my career,” he said, “and I hope no family ever has to go that long without answers again.”
While many could view Hand as a monster, Sam says she sees Pam’s killer as nothing more than someone who slipped through the cracks.
“I don’t see him as a monster, I see him as a severely disturbed person,” she said.
Through that, Sam hopes others take away a lesson. One her sister, the aspiring educator, still teaches from beyond the grave.
“It is so important that a person cares about others, it’s also so important that each person is cared about,” said Sam, “That night was the extremely unfortunate case where he didn’t care about others, and my sister, Pam, was not cared about in that moment.”
“If either one of those cases were different that night, Pam would still be here with us,” she said.
Sam managed to finish her education at ISU, and while she has gone on to create a life of her own, she still wishes her sister had the chance to do the same.
“I could’ve used her friendship and her counsel,” she said, “So many people in the world would’ve benefitted from her in their lives as a wife, as a mother, as a teacher, a friend, everything. It doesn’t take that away, that huge loss to the world.”
HELPING OTHER FAMILIES FIND THEIR JOURNEY TO JUSTICE
Keen says Hand only had a single arrest to his name, which was for the hitchhiking abduction and murder.
Though he was released in 1977, Keen believes Hand did not stop killing, and there could be more arrests we don’t know about.
So far, Keen says they’ve already assisted other agencies, in providing information, to possibly link Hand to other crimes.
“For us on, our end, our case is solved,” he said, “but if it can tie into others, the information is important to other investigators, we’ll provide that. In at least two cases now, we’ve tried to do that.”
Sam says she hopes other agencies benefit from her sister’s case in hopes of helping other families searching for answers.
“I do hope that law enforcement agencies look carefully at what Chief Keen did, and what happened in this case, to use it,” she said, “Because there could be other families out there, who are like ours, where they just don’t know.”