Editor’s note: In last week’s cover story, the Nashville Scene took an exhaustive look at the circumstances surrounding the disappearance and death of Marcia Trimble in 1975. This week, we conclude by following up on the Metro Police Department’s attempts to crack this unsolved murder, examining its efforts to build a case against suspect Jeffrey Womack and its later attempts to use DNA testing to revive the investigation.
Terry McElroy is a cop’s cop. Street-smart and rugged, the detective is an avid motorcyclist, with the hardened face of someone who has seen it all. In his 32-year police career, as a charter member of the city’s murder squad, he has dug into the grisly details of as many as 1,000 homicide cases. His small, windowless office in Donelson is filled with an odd assortment of manila folders, dusty books about law enforcement, and hastily posted certifications and awards. An official instructor of homicide detectives, he also heads up the Police Department’s cold-case unit, which investigates unsolved murders dating back as far as the 1970s.
One of the most frustrating is the case of Marcia Trimble, the blond-haired, blue-eyed 9-year-old whose sexual assault and strangulation remain one of the city’s most notorious crimes. Late on the afternoon of Feb. 25, 1975, Trimble left her family’s home to deliver a box of Girl Scout cookies to a neighbor across the street. She never returned, setting off a frenzied one-month search that culminated with the discovery of her body in a dilapidated garage some 200 yards from her home.
McElroy knows the case like the back of his hand. In 1977, he went undercover to gain the confidence of a prime suspect in the young girl’s death. The suspect was Jeffrey Womack, a teenager who lived near the Trimbles’ home off Hobbs Road. McElroy, fellow homicide detective Tommy Jacobs, and other investigators had scrutinized dozens of potential suspects, but they always came back to Womack. This was their attempt to snag himthough, as with much else in this case, it led only to more questions and no conclusive answers.
Posing as an employee at the Jolly Ox, the now-defunct Green Hills restaurant where the 18-year-old Womack worked at the time, McElroy passed himself off as a tough ex-con from Alabama.
Over time, McElroy got to know Womack and his friends. They’d talk and ride around town together. Trying to affect a tough-guy image, the undercover cop told Womack and his friends that he’d been convicted of a violent crime a few years earlier. But McElroy, about 30 at the time, was perhaps too old to become their friend. “They were always a little leery of me,” he remembers.
Nevertheless, McElroy and Jacobs hatched a plan. By that point, Womack knew Jacobs because of the detective’s tenacious investigation into Trimble’s murder. “For a while,” McElroy recalls, “every time Jeffrey turned around, he thought Tommy was either there, had been there, or was fixing to go there.”
Knowing that Womack disliked Jacobs, the two cops decided to test the suspect’s reaction when his pursuer walked into the Jolly Ox. So one evening, Jacobs casually strolled to the restaurant’s bar. Upon seeing him, Womack told McElroy that Jacobs was a detective. When the undercover cop pretended to doubt Womack’s assertion, McElroy remembers Womack saying, “I know who he is; he’s investigating me for a little girl who was murdered with a tarp covered over her.”
The mention of the word “tarp” piqued McElroy’s interest, in part because McElroy did not know there was a tarp at the crime scene. In fact, he’d always thought that Trimble had been covered with a swimming pool. “Why didn’t he say she was found under a swimming pool? That was the thing everyone knew.”
Detective Jacobs went back to the evidence room and discovered that a shower curtain that looked just like a tarp was indeed one of several objects used to cover Trimble’s dead body. But how could Womack have known about the shower curtain? As far as the two cops could remember, it had never been mentioned in any press account of the incident.
Jacobs inspected the shower curtain and discovered it had also been used as a drop cloth. With the help of the FBI, he and fellow investigators compared the paint samples found on the shower curtain with paint scrapings they collected from homes in the neighborhood where Marcia Trimble lived and died. According to the FBI, the paint on the shower curtain matched paint from the home of Womack’s neighbor, Peggy Morgan, whom he often visited, in part to help baby-sit children at her day-care operation. First Womack knew about the so-called tarp; then, police discovered, he might have had access to it.
Jacobs says that Morgan, who was not a suspect, was “less than cooperative” when questioned about the curtain, but investigators did track down the people who had lived in Morgan’s home before her, and they recognized it. When faced with continued questioning about the curtain, Morgan grew irritated. “She was very critical about everything and was very critical of the investigation, saying, ‘Why don’t you go out and find the real killers?’ ” Jacobs recalls.
But Womack didn’t make things easy on himself. Knowing he was a suspect, Womack’s classmates would ask or even tease him about Marcia Trimble. He sometimes would make flip comments like, “Yeah, I killed her,” or “Yeah, I raped her.” Many of those classmates later testified that they thought Womack was joking, but investigators did not dismiss his jokes out of hand.
“What are we supposed to do?” Jacobs asks. “Ignore a confession?”
After Trimble’s murder, the district attorney’s office appointed a task force to investigate the case. Members of the force went back and reinterviewed old witnesses and worked off a composite drawing of a person seen with Marcia before her disappearance. According to assistant chief Judy Bawcum, who served on the original task force, Womack was the only suspect who resembled the composite drawing and who was known to be in the area at the time of Trimble’s disappearance. In fact, Marcia’s mother, Virginia, later testified that shortly before her daughter walked out the back door for the last time, she told her mother, “Watch out for Jeffrey,” because he was going to bring her money for the Girl Scout cookies he had ordered.
“The whole task force was in agreement that Jeffrey did this,” Bawcum recalls. “The evidence was there, and it couldn’t have been anybody else who would have had the method or opportunity to commit the crime.”
Today, the man who hung out with Womack as an undercover officer says that, at the very least, he thinks Womack has knowledge of who killed Marcia Trimble. “I base that on the fact that I was around Jeffrey for a while. I base it on the fact that Jeffrey made the statement about the tarp. And I base it on...stuff that’s in the file that you may not be privy to.”
In the early-morning hours of Aug. 28, 1979, four squad cars pulled up outside the Parkside Apartments, the building on West End Avenue where Jeffrey Womack was then staying, and brought him to juvenile headquarters. He was charged with first-degree murder and set free on $25,000 bond. Shortly thereafter, police Sgt. Douglas Dennis, who was one of the officers who arrested Womack, told the Nashville Banner, “There was no doubt in my mind the suspect is guilty.”
But others had doubts. Police Capt. Noble Brymer told the afternoon daily that, based on the two lie detector tests he gave to Womack, he would say that the suspect was “truthful.” Besides, at the time of the hearing at least, investigators could not reach consensus on when Marcia Trimble was murdered and if her body had been in the neighbor’s garage the whole time following the murder. (Today, there is very little doubt that Trimble was killed the day she walked out of her house.)
If she was killed days, instead of minutes, after her disappearance, chances that Womack was the culprit were remote. It would be next to impossible to convince a jury that a 15-year-old boy who didn’t even have a car could hold a girl hostage for days, kill her, and then carry her body to another location in the neighborhood.
In the days after Womack’s arrest, friends and acquaintances of the suspect described him to The Tennessean as a quiet teenager who’d shuffled aimlessly about Nashville since dropping out of Hillsboro High School two years earlier. One former neighbor called him “nice but strange.” Amy Watson, who worked at Peggy Morgan’s day-care operation with Womack, told reporters that he was very talkative, although she distinctly remembers that he was very quiet the day Marcia disappeared.
Womack’s close friends, meanwhile, maintained that there was no way he could have been responsible for the girl’s death. Neither his father, Thomas, who worked at Parkview Hospital Operations, nor his mother, Christine, a housewife, spent much time talking to the media.
Mike Pigott, now a partner at the local public relations firm McNeely Pigott & Fox, covered the case for the Nashville Banner and broke the story of Womack’s arrest. “He was very, very quiet and very subdued,” Pigott says of the young suspect. “He seemed very shy to me. I don’t think he was Mr. Popular, but he didn’t strike anybody as being particularly violent.”
Lawyer Ed Yarbrough, who along with John Hollins represented Womack, says that his client held up well during all the publicity. “Jeffrey was real likable and was surprisingly easygoing, given what he was going through. I would say he was resilient.”
After Womack’s arrest, then-district attorney Tom Shriver took a good deal of criticism for his office’s seemingly hard-line tactics. “They went out in the middle of the night like the Gestapo,” says former Banner publisher John Jay Hooker. “I thought that was an unnecessary thing to do, and I wrote an editorial very castigating of Shriver.”
Interestingly, Shriver and Hooker had studied together at Vanderbilt Law School. Hooker remembers that after the editorial hit the streets, his old friend contacted him. “He read it and called me up and said, ‘I think you’re right.’ And what could have ended up being an unpleasant situation ended up being OK.”
But it wasn’t OK with Pat Apel, the assistant DA who’d orchestrated Womack’s arrest. A month after authorities slapped handcuffs around their suspect and hauled him downtown, Apel resigned in a huff after a dispute with Shriver.
Apel’s hastened departure served as good news for Womack and his attorneys. After all, nobody in the DA’s office knew more about the case than he did. When Shriver dropped all charges against Womack a year later, Apel, booted to the sidelines, told reporters that when the task force arrested Womack, they’d had enough evidence to land a conviction. Today, reached in his law office in Ohio, Apel wouldn’t say if he still feels the same way more than 20 years later.
On Dec. 3, 1979, a 20-year-old Jeffrey Womack, dressed in a blue suit and no tie, appeared in court. It was a transfer hearingnot a trialin front of Juvenile Court Judge Richard Jenkins. At issue was whether Womack, who was 15 at the time Marcia was killed, should be tried as an adult. Nearly five years after Trimble’s murder, the city still was obsessed with the slain Girl Scout, and both of the city’s papers screamed news from the hearing on their front pages.
The hearing was traumatic for the Trimble family. On the first day, former homicide Lt. Tom Cathey discussed the condition of the body the day Marcia was found. He described lacerations on her head and abrasions on her throat and said that the left side of her face was bloody around the mouth. As Cathey spoke, according to the Nashville Banner, Virginia Trimble shook visibly.
But it was the second day of the hearing that delivered the sharpest blow to the family. That day, Shriver said that the 9-year-old Girl Scout had been raped, and he unveiled an autopsy report concluding that “sperm was found in the vaginal contents.” The young girl’s hymen, however, had not been broken.
Still enduring the loss of their daughter, Charles and Virginia Trimble learned for the first time that she had been sexually assaulted before her death. “When the DA used the word ‘rape,’ Charlie and I had no idea,” Virginia says. “We squeezed each other’s hand so hard to counteract all the pain.”
The judge ruled that Womack had to stand trial as an adult and sent the case to the Davidson County Grand Jury. While it appeared the prosecution had landed an early victory, the hearing exposed many holes in their caseholes that could easily be exploited in a trial and that, to a large extent, still linger today. In fact, while a transfer hearing is not a test of guilt or innocence, Womack’s attorneys unveiled evidence that might make it impossible for a future jury to convict the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt.
Defense attorneys Hollins and Yarbrough, who continue to represent Womack, said that the Trimble’s neighborhood was the setting for a wide range of sexual activities pointing to any number of people who could have committed the rape and murder. The Banner reported that witnesses testified about a homosexual affair between two 12-year-old boys, an unidentified man who exposed himself to children, and a neighbor who had a fetish for children’s clothing. Witnesses alleged that these activities also included sexual experimentation by the Trimble girl and a friend. (In the years since, the children’s sex games often have been made out to be a tawdry affair, but after interviewing neighborhood children, police Capt. Mickey Miller, who has led the Trimble investigation for the last 10 years, says police discovered that the games were really pretty innocuous. Police say Marcia Trimble, her friend March Egerton, and at least two other neighborhood children participated.)
Hollins and Yarbrough also said that no witness had come forward who’d seen Trimble and Womack together before she went missing. They also noted that Womack’s fingerprints were not found in the garage where she was discovered. Finally, while the prosecution produced five witnesses who admitted they’d heard Womack say that he raped and killed Marcia Trimble, many of those witnesses said that they did not take him seriously.
“I think he joked about it to get people to back off,” Yarbrough says today.
Finally, one officer who searched the garage before Marcia’s body was found testified that “the body was definitely not in the garage. There is no doubt in my mind.” Any chance the prosecution had of convicting Womack depended on them proving to a jury that Marcia Trimble was in the garage the whole 33 days she was missing. Short of that, they had nothing.
“We had several rookies in the Police Department who were prepared to testify that they had checked out the garage, and she was not there,” Yarbrough recalls.
Today, Yarbrough might have a harder time arguing that point, as police investigators point to reams of forensic evidence indicating that Marcia’s body was in the garage the whole time. “The forensic evidence is not infallible,” Jacobs says. “But it’s as infallible as you can get.”
After the transfer hearing, Shriver and then-assistant district attorney Torry Johnson reevaluated the entire case. After talking again to many of the witnesses, they decided they could not possibly convince a jury that Womack had committed the murder. In August 1980, Shriver was on a spelunking expedition with Yarbrough, who’d served under him in the DA’s office years earlier. Somewhere in Franklin County, Tenn., Shriver told his assistant-turned-adversary the news: “Oh, by the way. My office is going to ask that charges against Womack be dropped.”
For 10 years, the investigation of Trimble’s murder stagnated. Then, in 1990, the advent of DNA testing prompted the Metro Police Department to reignite efforts to find Marcia Trimble’s killer. It would be their most controversial, and costly, endeavor.
In the book The Blooding, Joseph Wambaugh recounts how English authorities rounded up blood samples of 4,000 men and ultimately nabbed the man who brutally killed and strangled a 15-year-old girl found dead along a shady footpath. Jacobs and Miller read that true-crime tale and figured a similar, if scaled-down, approach to DNA testing might lead them to Trimble’s killer.
Semen was found inside Marcia Trimble and also on her jeans, and while those original samples were not well-preserved over the years, police believed there was enough to test. At first, Jacobs and Miller simply thought they’d be able to match the DNA sample to one of the neighborhood suspects. To come up with a testing population, they estimated that there were about 100 to 150 neighborhood boys between the ages of 9 and 19 who lived within three miles of Trimble.
Over the next six years, police tested up to 70 men who had lived near Trimble’s neighborhood as boys. But because the samples found on the girl’s body had not been well-preserved, the DNA testing only eliminated a few possible suspects. More often than not, the findings were too vague to be useful. No exact matches have yet been made, but with DNA technology evolving at a rapid pace, that might change.
For now, though, DNA testing has proven a dead end, and investigators’ invasive attempts to get samples from former neighborhood kids has ensured that the Police Department will have enemies for years to come. To obtain DNA samples, police often knocked on doors and asked for blood and hair specimens. If the suspect refused, they’d simply obtain a search warrant.
The police were widely criticized for failing to conduct their business with the utmost of tact. “We probably took DNA samples from people who weren’t viable suspects,” Jacobs explains, “but when you have DNA evidence you don’t want to leave anybody out. You just never know.”
Along with DNA testing, the police also did some old-fashioned gumshoe work to catch Trimble’s killer. In the early ’90s, the department’s top detectives were on the trail of a suspect whose name kept popping up periodically for more than 15 years. His name was William Thomas Poggenburg, and as a kid he’d lived within a mile of Marcia Trimble’s home.
Not long after Trimble’s body was found, Poggenburg moved to Texas to attend an alternative school. According to Miller, he’d set fire to the Geddes-Douglas tree nursery at the corner of Hobbs and Estes, though it might have been an accident. His parents figured he might benefit from a new learning environment, so they sent him away to Texas.
Before long, Poggenburg transferred to another school in North Carolina. Then his family moved to Europe, where the father had taken a teaching position. In the years after Marcia’s death, police detectives tried to interview Poggenburg about what, if anything, he knew about Trimble’s murder. At the time, it appeared to police as though his parents were moving him around in an attempt to shield him from the law. Today, however, investigators no longer think this was the case.
In 1976, police detective Russell Hackett had first received a tip from a source in the legal community that Poggenburg was someone with whom police should speak. They tracked Poggenburg down a few months later in Norfolk, Va., where he was working as a Navy seaman, and with Hackett’s help, the U.S. Navy gave him a lie detector test about the Trimble case. Hackett doesn’t remember what specific questions were asked, but he does remember one thing: Poggenburg failed. (Analyzing lie detector tests is subjective, and Capt. Miller maintains that the test was inconclusive.)
After the investigation was reignited in 1990, and after much work, Hackett managed to track down Poggenburg again in Maine, where the suspect was working as a berry picker. And so the department’s elite cast of detectives took a tiny private plane to Bangor to question the suspect, now in his early 30s. The men on the plane were considered to be among the city’s finest police investigators.
When the investigators flew to Bangor, state troopers escorted them to Poggenburg, who had been camping out in a tent. They were prepared to serve a search warrant on him to obtain a DNA sample, but Poggenburg cooperated fully and never asked to see a lawyer. A test on the DNA sample produced findings too vague to be useful.
After interviewing Poggenburg, Miller felt that the berry picker had a more or less airtight alibi for his whereabouts at the time of Trimble’s disappearance. While he won’t go into details, the police captain adds, “We felt there was no evidence to think he was involved.”
Jacobs agrees that Poggenburg’s alibi is strong. Hackett, however, is not as convinced. Citing this, along with his recollection of the lie detector test results, the retired investigator says that Poggenburg “still bothers him.” Hackett also points out that the youth lived within a mile of Trimble at the time of her murder. He is careful to say, however, that he doesn’t know with any certainty what happened on the evening of Trimble’s disappearance.
Poggenburg’s father, Raymond, says that his son “was hit very hard”by the police investigation. He adds, “I have absolutely no indication that my son had the slightest thing to do with the death of the Trimble child, neither from him nor from anyone else.”
As the investigators’ cross-country trek to find Poggenburg illustrates, it won’t be for lack of resolve if the Metro Police Department never solves the murder of Marcia Trimble. Instead, it will be because of the sheer mystery of the case: The police don’t have an eyewitness or a clear motive. And while the police have pursued their share of suspects over the years, each one’s potential involvement provokes more questions than answers.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to solving the case is that police don’t know just how many people were involved in the actual crime. They are almost positive the perpetrator was a juvenile and someone Marcia knew: The dirt found on her shoe was found mainly on the sole, indicating that she’d walked into the garage, as opposed to being dragged. But investigators don’t know how many people might have sexually assaulted her. DNA tests have indicated that the semen of as many as four different males may have been found on her body, but at least one investigator doubts the integrity of the samples because the fluids have been poorly preserved. “I’m not confident in the DNA sample that we’ve got,” Jacobs says.
Even in the absence of concrete evidence, police investigators have scrutinized big and small clues alike. As with the pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, each clue has been meticulously assembled to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the events surrounding Trimble’s disappearance and murder. Today, police are still missing a number of pieces, but they know more now about what happened that February evening than ever before.
Miller, Jacobs, and former FBI agent Richard Knudsen each has his own theory about what happened on the evening Trimble disappeared. All three have shared their ideas with the Scene with the caveat that they are not passing them off as gospel, but as individual explanations based on the evidence at hand.
♦ Capt. Miller, who has spent countless hours of his own time investigating the finer points of this case, says that while Trimble was killed in the garage where she was found, that may not have been where she was sexually assaulted.
Virginia Trimble says that when Marcia left the house for the last time, the girl told her mother that she would be back in a short while; she was delivering Girl Scout cookies to Marie Maxwell, who lived across the street. That checks out, because at around 5:20 p.m., Maxwell saw Trimble standing in an adjacent driveway with a cookie box in her hand. Through a hedge, Maxwell saw two other males standing with the girlone taller, one smaller.
Shortly thereafter, an eyewitnesses saw someone who matched Trimble’s appearance a few blocks away at the corner of Estes and Hobbs roads. The eyewitness told police that she looked like she was about to cross the street in front of the nearby tree nursery, Geddes-Douglas. A second eyewitness told police that she saw Trimble five minutes later walking down Hobbs Road away from Estes, near the second gate of the tree nursery. Both eyewitnesses say the girl they saw was not carrying her cookie box, but they describe her perfectly otherwise. Miller says he thinks one of the two people in the driveway with Trimble that evening stole her cookie box and ran. “Marcia was the type to run after him,” he says.
Geddes-Douglas probably had closed for the day, police say, and Miller thinks that Trimble might have been sexually assaulted at the tree nursery. Citing DNA evidence, he also believes that she was sexually assaulted by up to three boys. After this took place, Trimble put her clothes back on and was lured into the garage by one or more of the boys who were pressuring her not to tell anyone what happened. While she was in the garage, Trimble might have raised her voice. “We think she was going to scream and tell, and the suspect grabbed her, trying to shut her up,” Miller says. “He did not mean to kill her.”
Miller bases his theory on the fact that while semen was found on Trimble’s jeans and in her vagina, she had her clothes on at the time she was found. It’s possible that the killer could have reclothed the body, but Miller says that it is extremely difficult to put clothes on a dead person. And besides, the garage had a dirt floorif the killer had assaulted Marcia, killed her, and then re-dressed the body, he would have dusted up the jeans in some way.
♦ The FBI’s Knudsen poses a different theory. He says that Marcia Trimble had walked to Marie Maxwell’s home right as the woman was pulling into her driveway. Given the timing, Marcia could not have known that Maxwell was returning home unless someone had called to tell her. Just minutes earlier, Maxwell parked her car in front of a neighbor’s driveway to ask a quick question. The house was across the street from the Womack and Morgan homes. If Jeffrey was home during that time, or if he was at Peggy Morgan’s house, he could have seen Maxwell’s car and called Trimble.
If Knudsen’s theory is true, it might place Womack at the driveway with Trimble. He actually owed her money for Girl Scout cookies, according to Virginia Trimble. He might have told Marcia that he’d meet her down the street to pay for his order.
“Marcia is sure she is going to meet Marie, but how does she know that unless someone she knew saw Marie when she pulled in?” Knudsen asks. “If it was Jeffrey who called, he had time to say, ‘Marie is coming, go bring your cookies.’ That gives [him] time to walk the back way and meet with her.”
♦ Jacobs isn’t even sure that Trimble left her home to deliver cookies to Maxwell. He suggests that she might have been planning to meet up with Womack. Regardless, Jacobs says he thinks that someone Marcia knew lured her into the garage. He says he doesn’t know if it was Jeffrey or just an “adolescent teenager with his hormones blitzing.”
“The suspect just raped someone. It was probably a new experience for him, and it was a new experience for Marcia. It was a tense situation. Marcia screamed. I don’t think the perpetrator wanted to kill her. I think he wanted to gain control of her and make her be quiet.”
Perhaps most significantly, Jacobs doesn’t believe that Trimble was sexually assaulted by more than one personthis in contrast to Miller, his former boss. “I would be totally shocked if there was more than one contributor,” he says. “Mickey [Miller] puts more faith in the DNA analysis than I do.
“It’s almost inconceivable that you had two, three, or four attackers and nobody talked,” he adds. “Odds are somebody would have talked.”
Jacobs also discounts the possibility of Trimble fleeing to the nursery, as Miller suggests, and theorizes that she was sexually assaulted in the garage and was killed shortly after she put her clothes back on.
The three investigators’ theories vary widely, but they all agree that whoever killed Marcia most likely was a juvenile who lived in the neighborhood. “Generally, you don’t have an adult taking cookie money,” Miller says. He also notes that an adult wouldn’t dump a body in the neighborhood where the victim lived. In addition, while the perpetrator was able to strangle Trimble, he fractured rather than crushed one of the bones in her neck. Again, this suggests that the age of the killer fell between that of a child and a full-grown adult.
Finally, the nature of Trimble’s sexual assault seems to discount the possibility of a mature perpetrator. “We have never seen an adult rape that looked like this one. Her hymen was intact; there was minimal penetration. That’s not what you see in an adult rape,” Miller says.
Regardless of their individual theories, each of the three investigators says that Womack remains a suspect nearly 21 years after the DA’s office dropped all charges against him. From the shower curtain found at the crime scene, to his own statements to his friends, to the neighborhood children who told police officers that Womack was with Marcia right before she disappeared, the evidence against the original suspect, however flimsy, remains. This evidence is not staggering or damning; in fact, a lot of it can be challenged. But the police do appear to have more on Womack than on any other suspect.
Having worked on the case since the evening Trimble disappeared, Jacobs is one of the two top authorities on the matter. The otherMiller, a current police captainhas to be more judicious in his public comments, but Jacobs is no longer with the department and can speak more freely. Asked point-blank if he thinks Womack was involved in Trimble’s murder, he says, “The most truthful answer I can give you is I don’t know. Based on all that I know during the whole 26-year period, I cannot eliminate him. He’s the most consistent suspect we have. In fact, we have looked at a hundred different suspects, and Jeffrey is the consistent one we cannot eliminate.”
Knudsen is a bit more confident that Womack killed Trimble. “I think when they charged Jeffrey Womack, they charged him correctly,” he says. “I could be wrong, but I’ve never changed how I felt.
Womack declined to speak to the Scene, but his attorney, Ed Yarbrough, says that the police focus on his client has hindered the Trimble investigation. “Once you make up your mind, it’s human nature to exclude other suspects,” he says. “I’m not impugning their integrity. I know most of those policemen. I understand their zeal to solve the case, and I never suspected their motives. My criticism is that they jumped to conclusions that were unwarranted.”
Yarbrough points out that his client passed several lie detector tests right around the time Marcia Trimble disappeared. “You’ll never be able to convince me that a child that age could pass a lie detector test unless he had nothing to do with it,” he says. As for Womack’s knowledge of the shower curtain and easy access to where it was kept, Yarbrough dismisses that evidence entirely. “Why would he go back to another home and get a tarp? The garage is full of junk. Why don’t you just cover it with something in the garage?”
To that, Jacobs says, “You can’t explain what people do when they are in a panic.”
Yarbrough says that his client isn’t interested in talking to the media about the police investigation. “It would be like talking about a football game that you didn’t attend,” he explains.
Joel Wilson is a friend of the Womack family’s and even baby-sat Womack when he was a young child. Wilson says that the police investigation of Jeffrey “destroyed the Womack family.” They had to move away from the neighborhood, he explains, and the father died prematurely, in part because of the stress caused by his son’s designation as a murder suspect.
Womack was a sweet kid with a good sense of humor, Wilson remembers. “Jeffrey was the kind of kid who was full of himself, but I can’t imagine him killing anybody.” Today, Womack lives with his mother in a condominium on Ashland City Highway.
Miller and Jacobs obtained a DNA sample from Womack in August 1990. Police say that test, much like the others, was inconclusive. The two cops also wanted DNA samples from March Egerton. One of Marcia’s closest friends and a friend of Marcia’s brother’s, Egerton, police believe, may hold clues that could help solve the caseif he was, in fact, the smaller person Marie Maxwell saw with Marcia.
Following Trimble’s disappearance, the Egerton family cooperated fully with police. But by September 1990, they had grown weary of persistent police inquiries. Police had to serve Egerton with a search warrant to obtain his DNAspecifically, two vials of his blood and 30 strands of hair from each of his arms and legs. But the way in which police served the warrant remains controversial to this day. Several police cars and four officers arrived at the Egerton home to serve the warrantsomething family friends and police critics still consider an overly dramatic and intimidating tactic.
In their affidavit, the police explained why they needed Egerton’s DNA and why he was a suspect: First, when Marcia walked out of her house for the last time, Egerton was playing basketball in the Trimbles’ yard. After the game ended, he was in the vicinity, and one eyewitness thought she saw him with Trimble. In addition, police contended, Egerton could not account for where he was from 5:15 to 6 p.m. on the day Trimble disappeared. Egerton also had been helping Marcia sell her Girl Scout cookies a few hours previous.
As with Womack’s DNA test, Egerton’s proved inconclusive because of the poor quality of the samples from Trimble’s body.
While Miller and Jacobs, like all good investigators, have been as thorough as possible in rounding up potential suspects, they say it’s unlikely that March Egerton committed the crime. After all, he was 10 years oldan age when few kids, boys especially, have reached puberty. Today, Miller acknowledges the police “never felt he was the perpetrator.” But the police captain says Egerton was pursued as a possible witness. Police even have looked into whether a 10-year-old child could have repressed such a horrible memory.
Egerton remains angry about how the police treated him. Reached at his East Nashville home, he would not discuss the case. In a statement to The Tennessean in May 1991, Egerton railed against the Metro Police Department. Criticizing the “historically gaffe-laden investigation,” he wrote that he has experienced “firsthand their tactics of intimidation and have been privy to their inability to reason as well as their reliance on innuendo and at times outright lying in their efforts at detection.”
For all the people who’ve been affected in some way by Trimble’s murder and the subsequent police investigation, none has been more central than the girl’s own mother, Virginia. This woman’s public stoicism during her daughter’s disappearance unnerved observers, periodically leading to unfounded rumors.
Shortly after the girl’s body was found in the spring of 1975, local radio stations reported that Virginia had confessed to the killing. She was eating lunch with a friend when one of the reports hit the airwaves. Her husband went home upon hearing the news, and when he didn’t find his wife that afternoon, he worried himself sick.
When Virginia Trimble returned from work each day as a kindergarten teacher, she often sat on her back porch listening to Teddy Bart’s talk-radio show on WSM-650 AM. People would call in all the time, she remembers, and bellow on the air that she killed her own daughter. Bart would always defend her, she remembers.
“Rather than the hysterically sobbing, out-of-control emotional behavior, Mrs. Trimble was altogether serene and placid,” Bart recalls. “Much of the suspicion of her was because of her demeanor.”
Even worse, people would call Virginia, a deeply religious woman, at home and accuse her of killing her daughter. One person warned her that she should expect a bomb in her mailbox. Not wanting to live in fear, she went that very day to retrieve her mail, she says. “I walked to the mailbox and said, ‘God has not given me the spirit of fear but the spirit of power.’ ”
In 1989, Charles Trimble filed for divorce from his wife of 27 years. Virginia says that their daughter’s death put a “terrible strain on our marriage.” In addition, she says that her husband was coming into a large inheritance and he wanted to live a separate lifestyle. “He asked for a divorce, but I wouldn’t give it. Even on the day of the divorce, he was still calling me ‘honey.’ We still loved each other.” Three days after the two were divorced, he died of lung and liver cancer.
For nearly 10 years, Virginia Trimble declined to comment to the media about her daughter’s death and the ongoing police investigation. Today, however, she talks ardently about finding the killer. “I’m not concerned about crime and punishment,” she says. “I just want to know who killed Marcia, why, and exactly when.”
Over the years, people have looked upon Trimble’s devout Christianity as the hallmark of a simple, if slightly eccentric woman. In fact, she is intelligent and savvy, with a playful sense of humor and an open, active mind. She enjoys her job as a receptionist at a local construction company, and she has a granddaughter she loves. But as strong as Virginia Trimble may be, she is still the mother of a blond-haired, blue-eyed Girl Scout who walked out the door and never came home. That she’ll never forget.
“Even after 26 years, I still miss her. I missed her growing up, and I missed her dating, her prom, her high school graduation. I miss the things I didn’t have.”
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