The Brutal 1972 Murder Of Juanita Todd Remains Unsolved To This Day

The police found her in a pool of blood on the floor of her apartment in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (above). At least 15 hours earlier, someone had stabbed Juanita Todd, a 22-year-old mother of two, multiple times and then wrapped a bed sheet around her neck, according to a 1972 story in The Times Leader. Officers had responded after receiving an anonymous tip. When they got there they found one of Todd's daughters, just 18 months old, sitting near her head. The other baby — a 5-month-old — was still in her crib.

At the time, the police told the newspaper they had "no suspects" for the murder that took place on September 28, 1972. More than 50 years later, the police seem no closer to finding her killer. Her daughter Odetta, who officers found near the body, and her younger sister, Tamu, have been searching for answers to the brutal killing of their mother. "I realized if we're going to try and get any closure in this, we have to face — we have to face it," Odetta told Dateline. "So, no matter how painful it is, we have to face it. I have to face it."

Strange details

There were many strange details surrounding Juanita Todd's murder that seemed incongruous. Her killer removed any fingerprints from the scene of the crime in the second-floor apartment on Academy Street, according to a 1994 article from The Times Leader. It appeared that someone had fed the babies and changed their diapers. Yet according to journalist Steve Corbett — who began reporting on the case in the 1990s — police found the knife the murderer used to stab Todd 22 times still lodged in her body.

While the killer took the time to remove any fingerprints, the murder itself was so brutal that there was blood on the walls and floor of the apartment. The killer, in a seeming frenzy, stabbed her over and over and also struck her hard enough to leave contusions on her face and scalp, per the 1972 Times Leader story. Even with the amount of violence inflicted on the victim, it appeared as if there had not been a struggle, and the downstairs neighbors didn't hear anything unusual in the hours before police found her body.

The investigation

In the days following Juanita Todd's violent death, the Wilkes-Barre police chief at the time, John Ruddick, told The Times Leader that "all available detectives" had been assigned to the case and were working "around the clock" to try and apprehend the killer. But as days turned to weeks and then months, the case stalled. By January 1973, the newspaper reported that even after 50 police interviews, no arrests had been made — but the single investigator assigned to the case was "still running down leads."

According to Steve Corbett, one lead that seemed important and that was never thoroughly pursued during the original investigation involved a man named Douglas DeGraffenreid. DeGraffenreid, allegedly a close friend of Todd's, fled Pennsylvania for Los Angeles just before he was supposed to take a polygraph test in relation to Todd's murder. Even after calling the Wilkes-Barre police to let them know where he was, investigators didn't follow up for more than 20 years until Corbett began writing about the case while working at The Times Leader in 1994. An unnamed source told Corbett that DeGraffenreid left to avoid having the police pin the murder on him. DeGraffenreid ended up in prison in California serving two life sentences for an unrelated killing. He has continued to deny any role in Todd's death. Odetta Todd is still hoping for justice.