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updated: 5/1/2014 9:39 AM

Terre Haute investigators reopen 1980 slaying case

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Associated Press

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- A 34-year-old cold case investigation has reopened in a 1980 Terre Haute homicide.

Gloria A. (Felix) Hedden was 29 when her body was pulled from the Wabash River on July 12, 1980.

The Vigo County Sheriff's Department is asking for the community's help in solving the case - now under investigation by a cold case team led by retired Vigo Sheriff Bill Harris.

At the time of her death, Hedden was married with two children and lived in the 2200 block of Crawford Street, Harris said. Hedden was studying for a degree in computer science from Indiana State University.

She had been born and raised in Chicago, and had come to the Wabash Valley in 1968 to complete a bachelor's degree at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. Many of her husband's relatives lived in West Terre Haute.

"It's one of the older cases," Harris told the Tribune-Star ( ) Wednesday when talking about why this case was selected for the renewed investigation. "Many co-workers and co-students from that time are still alive, though we discovered one person is deceased. It's just a matter of getting in there and talking to witnesses and others before it's too late."

A review of the case file showed that Hedden had completed her work shift at the U.S. Postal Service annex on 13th Street near Lockport Road at about 7 a.m. on July 9, 1980, Harris said, noting that her co-workers were likely among the last people who saw her alive.

Because she was an ISU student at the time, she was often sent to finish her shift near campus at the main post office at Seventh and Cherry streets, he said, and she usually parked her car in a lot between Seventh and Eighth street along Cherry Street, where a parking garage is now located.

Harris said that Hedden's husband reported finding her car in that parking lot. He reported her as a missing person to the Terre Haute Police Department on July 10, 1980. Two days later, two fishermen found a body floating near the west bank of the river, directly across from the U.S. Penitentiary property south of the city.

News reports from 1980 stated that her hands and feet were bound with a cable. Her body had been weighted down with railroad iron. A joint investigation developed between THPD and the sheriff's department after an autopsy determined that Hedden had been murdered.

Harris said he recently consulted with Indiana Conservation Officers, who have researched the river and weather conditions of July 1980, as recorded in newspapers archived at the Vigo County Public Library. The river's water level had been falling during the time that the woman was missing, Harris said, and the air temperature was in the 90s. That led to the conclusion that Hedden's body did not travel far from where it entered the water, likely on the west side of the river.

"There's someone out there in the community who did this, and has lived with it every day," Harris said of the homicide. "I would only tell that person that it's time to make it right for Gloria and her children, and her grandchildren. For over 33 years, other people out there knew about this and have been living with it every day."

Harris left office as sheriff in 2002. Since then, he has worked as a parole officer in Terre Haute, retiring in November 2012. But during those years, and especially recently, he has been active in cold case investigations through the sheriff's department.

This is the fifth cold case investigation for Harris, who was instrumental in tracking down information that led in January to an arrest in the 1998 murder of West Terre Haute teenager Erika Case. The Case investigation was assisted by a team of detectives from the "Cold Justice" television program that airs on the TNT television network.

Now, the local investigative team -- led by Capt. John Moats, with Detective Derek Fell, Detective Tim Osburn, and special deputies Ron Steiner and Gary Ater -- includes Harris and retired agent Ron Benefield of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The Hedden investigation also includes special deputy Drake Johnson, who was the THPD investigator on the case, and who now does courthouse security for the sheriff's department.

"We've got a team put together of active detectives and retired investigators," Harris said.

They are reviewing all 11 cold cases in the sheriff's department, but it seems that it is time to turn up the heat on the Hedden investigation, he said, noting that the "Cold Justice" team added inspiration on how to renew the long-ago homicides.

"We get more intense now. More serious. And, 'It's just time to talk now' is the attitude we take," Harris said of the approach taken. "There's no more time for not being involved. If you know something, you are involved."

Moats told the Tribune-Star the Case investigation was aided by long-ago witnesses who came forward after having been too intimidated at the time to share their information.

"You don't know who has passed on who might have been intimidating someone at the time, or someone might have decided to 'get right with God' and relieve their own conscience," Moats said of people who finally come forward with information.

Harris said that is the hope of the renewed investigation in the Hedden case, as in the department's other cold cases.

Anyone with information to share is asked to contact Moats or lead investigator Harris at 812-462-3226.

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