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The ME ruled his death a drowning. That was wrong. Now Chesterfield Police are looking for a killer.

Posted at 1:26 PM, Mar 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-01 16:43:47-04

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Investigators have returned to the site of a nearly 20-year-old murder to search for clues into who killed 79-year-old Charles William Cole.

As the Problem Solvers first told you in July 2020, Cole's drowning death is now being investigated as murder after his daughter fought to have his body exhumed in 2019.

“I begged them to please find out what happened to my father,” Cole’s daughter Bonnie Cole Willis said.

“Based on the Medical Examiner’s new examination of the body they determined that this case was a homicide based on stab wounds,” Chesterfield Police Lt. Brad Conner said.

Cole was found dead in a pond in the back of his property in the 9700 block of Coalboro road on July 7, 2003.

“It really was a very brutal murder,” his daughter said. “I know from having looked at the documentation that he probably did suffer. That makes me sad and that makes me even more determined to get to the bottom of it.”

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Cole Willis has been on a mission to get justice for her father who she considered to be her best friend.

She recalls the moment she saw her father’s autopsy diagram, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

“The smoking gun was the body diagram,” she said. “My first thought in looking at it was, 'my God he was stabbed. He was stabbed!'"

Chesterfield’s Unsolved/Major Investigations Group (UMIG) is now investigating Cole’s case.

“We were able to put into practice a series of forensic testing, and other avenues available to us to investigate the case, which included more detailed and comprehensive interviews of those folks that had maybe already spoken to investigators in the past,” Chesterfield Police Corporal Detective James Barrett said. “Leaps and bounds had taken place in our ability or capabilities to forensically test evidence that may have been secured even 20 years ago.”

“We've also explored other avenues such as cellular data extraction, and testing, things that were available to us now that maybe weren't 15 to 20 years ago in the past,” Barrett said.

Barrett added there have been significant advancements in testing, particularly of blood DNA and hair fiber evidence. They not only use the state laboratory in Virginia, but they have testing options across the nation.

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Investigators drained the pond where Mr. Cole’s body was found face down.

“Can you confirm for us if you left that residence with something to work with?” Problem Solver Laura French asked.

“I did not feel that we left the residence empty handed,” Barrett responded. “I can't speak to the specifics of any items collected at the time of that search. But we, as a police department, do not feel that that was an unfruitful endeavor.”

“Bonnie, do you think your father knew the person who killed him?” French asked.

“I do and the reason for that is my father was a very private person and he would not have allowed anyone on his property that he did not know or recognize. So, the person who murdered him had to be someone that he knew or knew of,” Willis answered.

"Why would anyone want to hurt your father?" French asked.

“Well, I think the right answer is money,” Willis replied.

“There is an individual who was arrested for a very similar murder later in 2003 and that individual knew the woman that he murdered in December of 2003, and he also knew my father,” explained Willis. “In fact, he was the boyfriend of one of my dad's nieces, so he did know my dad and had been on the property before."

That man, who CBS 6 is not identifying, is serving a life sentence for the brutal stabbing death of an elderly woman in Newport News five months after Cole’s murder.

“It is public knowledge that certain individuals around that time frame were investigated, and not necessarily in this jurisdiction, but that were investigated, and that information is known by the police and is factored into our investigation,” said Barrett.

An investigation that police said, with the help of advancements in science, could lead them to Cole’s killer or killers.

“The clock is ticking, there's a limited amount of time for this individual to come to a conclusion that they have within their ability. They've carried this burden with them and if it's not the conscience that kicks in, and causes this individual to come forward with what they have done, I would say that, for those of us whose professional job it is to hunt you down, we will not sleep, we don't blink and that day is coming,” said Barrett.

“I've referred to it as a dog with a bone that won't let go of that bone. I'm determined and if that's the last thing that I do on this earth, I'm going to get justice for my father,” said Willis.

Chesterfield Police said they too believe Mr. Cole knew the person or persons who killed him, and this was not a chance encounter.

They believe someone in this community has information that can help them solve this murder.

Police asked anyone with information to contact Chesterfield Police at 804-748-1251 or Crime Solvers at 804-748-0660. All tips are anonymous, and you could receive a reward.

Watch for Problem Solvers Investigations Tuesdays on CBS 6 News at 11 p.m. Click here for more of our investigations or to submit a tip to the Problem Solvers.

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