Murder on Unity Drive: Who killed Carolyn R. Williams?

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COLUMBIA, Mo. – Columbia sits along Interstate-70, midway between Missouri’s two largest cities, Kansas City and St. Louis. It is home to Columbia College, Stephens College, and the University of Missouri. 

According to Forbes, the cost of living is 12% below the national average, and the city ranked high on Milken Institute’s list of best places for aging. Yet, it received a D+ rating from CrimeGrade.org, which states that “a crime occurs every 1 hour 33 minutes (on average) in Columbia.”

In the late 1980s, Unity Drive’s area was overrun with “crack cocaine activity,” according to Retired Columbia Detective Mike Himmel in a 2009 interview with the Columbia Daily Tribune. The drug emerged across the U.S. in the mid-80s and heightened in the Unity Drive area during the 1989 New Year’s weekend.

Carolyn R. Williams, 44, lived in an apartment at 214 Unity Drive. On Friday, Dec. 30, 1988, she held a New Year’s party with about six guests in attendance, including two from the Kansas City area. Later, a party guest told police they last saw her alive around 3 or 4 a.m. New Year’s Eve.

One of Carolyn’s two daughters checked on her New Year’s Day and saw her mother lying on the floor through a window. The young woman ran crying and screaming across the street to the residence of Margaret Stemmons, 66, who had known Carolyn since she was a child.

Stemmons called the police, and they arrived at 10:30 p.m. Officers found Carolyn dead in a pool of blood on the floor of her apartment. There were signs of a struggle, but all doors and windows were locked.

Columbia police canvassed the area for leads and the murder weapon but came up empty-handed. Investigators interviewed 36 individuals but had no suspects.

Boone County Medical Examiner Jay Dix performed the autopsy and found that Carolyn had been stabbed multiple times in the upper chest area and her left arm broken.

Local police believe the crime was drug-related. However, they had little evidence to lead them to the killer.

Investigators found blood-stained clothing in the apartment, but DNA testing was reasonably new at the time and not yet used by the Columbia Police Department. Tips came in over the years but nothing substantial.

In 2009, Himmel was teaching a cold-case homicide class, an elective course for criminal justice and forensic science students, at Columbia College. His students took on the Williams case during the spring semester and began their investigation.

Himmel’s previous class helped locate Mary Nobels’ remains in a pond adjacent to a wooded area in southern Pulaski County in 2006. Nobels had been missing for 20 years. Police subsequently linked her murder to John David Brown, already serving time in prison for another crime.

“When students come here, they use the same equipment and techniques used by law enforcement agencies,” said Himmel. “We’ve had officers say that these students can do more in 16 weeks than detectives can do in two years.”

In the Williams case, the students eventually narrowed down a list of suspects to six individuals, two being prime suspects. While they were not the same people police had suspected in 1989, investigators had considered them persons of interest over the years, Himmel said.

Detectives then sent evidence for DNA testing to the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab in Jefferson City. Himmel estimated it would take four to six months before results came back. As of 2013, the results were still pending.

That same year, Columbia College constructed the Brouder Science Center, a 53,000 square-foot facility with classrooms, faculty offices, and labs, including a crime simulation lab. The new lab provided Himmel’s students with a more extensive working area and better tools for crime-solving. Himmel purchased items utilized by law enforcement with college funds.

He told the Columbia Missourian: “We’ve got a lab photo table, and if students go to work for the Highway Patrol crime lab in Kansas City, it’s the same table. They’ll get to use it before they ever get a job.”

Himmel was hopeful his class would solve Carolyn’s murder, but it remains unsolved today.

In December 2020, Columbia police reopened the Williams homicide investigation with plans to resubmit evidence for advanced forensic testing not available in 1989. No further information has been provided.

If you have information regarding Carolyn Williams’ homicide, please contact the police department at (573) 874-7652 or CrimeStoppers at (573) 875-8477 to remain anonymous.

True Crime Diva’s Thoughts

I don’t have much to say on this one because there isn’t a lot of info. That’s why I picked this one; we need to bring more awareness to Carolyn’s vicious murder.

Carolyn’s apartment is still there today and part of Columbia Housing Authority’s Stuart Parker Apartments, which means they are for low-income individuals and families. I’m guessing it was the same in the late 80s.

The police believe Carolyn’s killing was drug-related but did not elaborate. I’m guessing she had a drug history, or drugs were found in her system. Hell, this might be speculation only.

Carolyn was last seen alive at 3 or 4 a.m. New Year’s Eve and police found her body at 10:30 p.m. New Year’s Day. I never saw anything about Carolyn’s time of death. So, when was she killed? Did any neighbors see anyone coming or going during that time frame? Did they hear any loud noises coming from her apartment? It looks like she lived in a building that housed her apartment and three others, so surely someone heard something.

The killer broke Carolyn’s left arm, so they might have been trying to gain information or wanted to inflict pain. She was stabbed multiple times; maybe it was more personal. In this case, the assailant stabbed her in the upper chest, which means they were close to her face as she died. So did the killer pin her to the floor, straddle her, and then stab her? Or maybe someone else was involved?

There was no mention of sexual assault or a robbery. If she had an unpaid debt, say for drugs, killing her would not have produced the money, although dealers will murder someone over it. 

I believe she knew her killer. While the drug theory makes sense, I also wonder about current or ex-boyfriends, a jealous rival, or even one of the party guests. What was the relationship like between her and the father of her children?

I find it interesting that all of the doors were locked. Why did the killer bother locking the door on the way out? So nobody could gain access to the apartment? Would a drug dealer worry about a locked door? I doubt it.

What about shoe imprints? Any fingerprints? What did the killer stab her with — a knife? What type of knife?

There are so many unanswered questions in this case. I don’t know why the police are so quiet on this case after 33 years. They appeal to the public but do not give out any additional info. 

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True Crime Diva

True Crime Diva

I've blogged true crime since 2010, happily taking up only a tiny corner of the internet. I'm not here for attention; I'm here to tell you their stories.

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