PAWHUSKA — Sitting on a couch inside the Osage County Sheriff’s Office, Bobby Neighbors explained how he’d finally found closure on the years-long odyssey of trying to help investigators locate the person who killed his mother more than two decades ago.
“It makes me feel great,” Neighbors, now 22, told the Tulsa World on Friday, a day after Texas authorities arrested 48-year-old Cherri Terry on a murder warrant. “I didn’t get too emotional about it. But when I told my grandmother, that’s when I broke down. That was the biggest, for me, being able to tell family and friends.”
Terry is accused of killing Joannie Goodwin, who was just 19 at the time. Her body was found on Sept. 29, 1996, in Bird Creek near the Pawhuska Light Plant on County Road 4225.
Neighbors would likely have continued to wonder about Goodwin’s fate but for the persistence of Osage County investigators and the true-crime cable television series “Cold Justice,” which helped supply resources needed to track down key witnesses and bring a resolution to the 22-year-old case.
“As an administrator, they helped,” said Osage County Sheriff Eddie Virden about the relationship between law enforcement and the TV production crew. “They brought new eyes, and they had some people with pretty big credentials and a lot of experience to bring those new eyes and opinions.
“They’ve got experts lined up they’ve used in hundreds of cases. They had more resources and more funding and access to things that we wouldn’t have had to use on a daily basis.”
The crew assisted authorities in cutting down the amount of time it took to pinpoint and interview the many witnesses identified in the case who were spread out over at least five states.
Osage County Sheriff’s Office investigator Dale Hunter said the unit was aided by the fleet of vehicles stocked with cameras and video equipment that allowed the team to conduct on-site interviews no matter where they traveled.
“We could do all of this in a week when it would take a year to do by myself,” said Hunter, who mentioned that “Cold Justice” deployed a staff dedicated to looking up addresses and phone numbers for witnesses. “They brought all the resources in one fell swoop.”
Both Virden and Hunter maintained that, despite all the support received from the television crew, there was no big break that eventually led to an arrest. Instead, it was a result of witnesses providing relevant accounts based on facts instead of rumor or hearsay.
“One thing that derailed the case early on were witnesses who said one thing and then added 15 other things as fact,” said Hunter. “We had to tell them to forget all that stuff they heard and tell me what they knew.”
In speaking with as many as 40 people for the case, the small group of investigators were able gather new information and confirm prior statements made years ago to put together strong enough evidence to present to the Osage County District Attorney’s Office.
“It was an ensemble of stories of everyone involved,” said Hunter. “No one witness by themselves had something that gets this done. There was never an ‘ah-ha’ moment.”
It was Hunter who told Neighbors that Terry had been apprehended in Texas and would be placed in custody for a murder that many believed would never be solved.
“I met with him and his aunt,” he said. “That’s what the job is about. It feels good to call folks and tell them we’ve made ground and got the DA on board to file charges.”
Terry is being held in the Colorado County, Texas, jail. She is awaiting extradition to Osage County, where she will be held in lieu of $1 million bond.
For Neighbors, he and the rest of the family will continue to reflect on how Goodwin lived, not how she died.
“The family has gotten together before to celebrate her life,” he said. “This will be a different celebratory moment. We’re going to get together and talk about her life. We’re going to talk about the good times.”
Kendrick Marshall 918-581-8378