The Unsolved Murder of Kathy Kohm of Santa Claus, Indiana
I remember Kathy Kohm. Well, I never met her, but I felt like I knew her. I still do. See, when she disappeared on April 5th, 1981, we were about the same age. And the idea that this 11-year-old Santa Claus, Indiana girl was abducted right here in the tristate had every child and their parents on alert. Kathy Kohm's photo was literally everywhere and it seemed the whole nation was looking for her. Where was she? What happened to her? Who took her? Today, nearly 40 years later, we still don't have all the answers.
Kathy Kohm's disappearance was alarming enough. Kidnappings aren't supposed to happen here in the tristate. And they certainly don't happen to kids in Santa Claus, Indiana. Only, it did happen and on June 11th, 1981 . . . over two months after she was reported missing . . . Kathy's story took an even more grim turn.
Her body was found by hunters near a dirt road. She had been raped and shot in the head. For two months everyone had wondered what happened to Kathy. And now, we all knew. And the search for Kathy gave way to the search for answers and, even more importantly, the person responsible.
As the investigation unfolded, authorities set their sights on Evansville firefighter Stanton Gash. According to a Spencer County farmer, he had pulled Gash's car from the mud near the road where Kathy's body was found. And he pulled that car from the mud on the very day that Kathy disappeared. Gash was most assuredly THE person of interest in the case. THE suspect.
But authorities were never able to conclusively link him to the Kathy's disappearance or murder. Gash never faced criminal charges in connection with the case. But there was a significant amount of circumstantial evidence to warrant a civil trial. And, in 1983, a civil jury ruled in favor of Kathy's parents and ordered Gash to pay Bill and Rosemary Kohm $5000. But, clearly the money wasn't enough (and, now, the thought of a $5000 settlement seems absurdly insignificant). Their daughter was gone . . . and they were still desperately seeking answers.
The Kohms moved to St. Louis after the murder. Who could blame them for wanting to get away and leave this horrid past behind? And Gash left the tristate too. He moved to Florida and hoped to escape his alleged ties to the rape and murder of an 11-year-old. But his connection to the case would eventually have authorities knocking on his door in the Sunshine State.
When advancements in DNA technology became fine-tuned and were made available to the Indiana State Police, authorities decided it could be used to finally, hopefully, crack the Kohm case. So, detectives and forensic analysts visited Gash in Florida to collect DNA samples to see if they could tie him to the Kohm crime scene. Less than a week later, Gash committed suicide in what appeared to be the ultimate admission of guilt.
However, the DNA evidence proved to be inconclusive. Despite technology and science that could finally link suspect to victim, the process failed to do so and Gash was never conclusively tied to Kathy's death.
And here we are . . . over 35 years later . . . and Kathy Kohm's murder is a mystery relatively still unsolved. To this day, locals in and near Santa Claus, Indiana have their own theories. Some recall rolling up their sleeves to look for Kathy when she disappeared. Some searched for days, combing acre after acre on horseback. Some insist there were overlooked leads in the case. See, everyone in the tristate expected answers that never came. Kathy's parents never got the definitive answers they were seeking either. They have since moved back to the area and, according to locals, have placed a special marker at the exact location where Kathy's body was discovered. The impact of Kathy's story remains.
I was asked by a friend in southern Indiana, "Why a story now?" And, honestly, I don't know. Maybe it's because I think about Kathy every once in a while. Like I said, in 1981, I felt like I knew her. And I still do. She's the girl who taught me (when I was just 9-years-old) that really bad things can and do happen to kids. She's the girl who made me think twice about walking anywhere alone and, for months (years) I didn't. She's the girl I thought of immediately the night that a friend of mine and I were riding my motorcycle . . . and a car came up behind us . . . and slowly trailed us . . . spotlighting us the entire length of the road. In that instance, we were terrified. And in that moment of terror, to some hauntingly psychological degree, we were Kathy. I think for those of us who were Kathy's age when she disappeared, we are all still her. And we carry her memory and legacy with us.