The Man with the Briefcase

Date Published 05.05.08
The Honda CR-V was gray. Or maybe silver. Around 3:20 p.m. it was observed starting and stopping along the street, as if the driver were searching for an address.

The Dundee-Memorial Park neighborhood, in central Omaha, is known for its sprawling, early 20th century homes. Historic details abound. The streetlights are old-style, cast-iron globes; each summer the local preservation society hangs 475 identical flower baskets on them. Dundee is considered one of Omaha’s most prestigious neighborhoods. Warren Buffett lives there.

The driver, finding the address he wanted, pulled over to the curb and parked.

A dark-haired, olive-skinned man got out of the car.
He was wearing a black coat and carrying a briefcase. He walked up to 303 54th Street, where the Hunter family lives. Drs. William and Claire Hunter are physicians and faculty members at Creighton University Medical Center. They have four sons, but only Thomas, 11, still lived at home.

On this afternoon, Thursday, March 13, Thomas had arrived home from school a little after 3 p.m., as he usually did. Also in the house was Shirlee Sherman, 57, the Hunter's longtime housekeeper.

Sherman opened the front door and let the man in the black coat with the briefcase inside. Later, a neighbor observed the man walking back to his car. He didn't appear to be in a rush or agitated.

William Hunter's call to 911 came in at 5:48 p.m. He'd returned home from work and found the bodies of Sherman and his eleven-year-old son. They'd been murdered --- stabbed to death inside the house.

Very few details have been released in the Dundee double slaying. Family members and friends came forward to describe the victims as bright, funny and sweet (Thomas), and strong, shy and giving (Sherman). Neither one was a likely murder victim. Robbery didn’t appear to be the motive either. Police admitted they were stumped, though they quickly eliminated William Hunter and his wife, who was out of town at the time of the murders, as suspects.

The man in the black coat with the briefcase was the best lead, as several neighbors saw him. Police released a composite sketch.

Composite sketch of suspect

But more than six weeks later, police are no closer to identifying the suspect, or even a motive.

When asked if he’s optimistic about solving the case, Lt. Gerald Hawley of the Omaha Police Department sighed. “Optimistic? I don’t know,” he said. “I'm hopeful.”

Hawley said that investigators aren't certain who the intended target was, which suggests that Thomas and Sherman's injuries were roughly similar. Interestingly, when asked about Sherman's routine, Hawley said it varied; she was known to work weekdays, but the time of day varied. The implication hung in the air.

The suspect apparently had the Hunter’s address, as evidenced by his starting and stopping along the street, and was targeting them specifically. He was well dressed and drove a nice car. This was no burglar. Burglars don’t normally carry knives --- too messy, too much risk.

The murders were likely motivated by intense anger and a need for revenge.

Who might be both professional looking and have it out for the Hunters?

Drs. William and Claire Hunter are physicians, but more importantly they’re professors at Creighton University Medical Center. William directs the Pathology Residency Program, and Claire is the associate program director for evaluation and credentialing in the Department of Medicine, along with directing the Cardiovascular Fellowship Training Program. It’s reasonable to assume they exert control over the career paths of many young, overachieving doctors-to-be.

It’s inevitable, in the high-pressure atmosphere of medical training, that hopes are occasionally dashed. People are told they don’t have what it takes. Years of relentless study and training appear to go down the drain.

It may be a coincidence, but the murders occurred exactly one week before Residency Match Day, the annual ritual on the third Thursday in March when graduating medical students learn at which hospitals they will train in their new specialties as residents.

It’s a famously emotional day, as thousands of medical students around the country unseal their envelopes at the same time and learn their fate.

If a student wasn’t graduating, or he hadn’t been granted the residency interviews that precede Match Day, the third Thursday of March would loom as a bitter reminder of his failure. He might cast around for someone to blame.

"That's definitely a theory we're looking into," Lt. Hawley said.

The Feed

RT @emilynussbaum: The artful @hodgman's straightforward case for Hillary:
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Know what he does believe in? PAC $. Took 10K from HRC pac 2006. That means he's in her pocket.#BSLogic
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Good one. Unfortunately Bernie on record as not believing in charity.
@johnlevenstein Thanks for asking, btw. That's the kind of elevated discourse missing lately. A lot of mud slinging. #I'mNotAboveItEither
@johnlevenstein Can't convey it all thru Twitter but yes, she has flaws. Too poll-driven, burned needed bridges, trouble owning mistakes.