Manage episode 297886455 series 2077470
One unseasonably cool (as opposed to freezing) late winter morning on March 10, 1997, at a small travel stop gas station and convenience store right off Interstate 80 in Cozad, a tiny farming community in the heart of Nebraska, a late model Pontiac Grand Am pulled into the parking lot and up to the pumps. Inside the store, 41 year-old Leah Rowlands was behind the counter on her very first day in her new role as manager – her hard work and happy attitude had earned her that position after just a few months. The divorced mother of two was finally getting her life back in order after a tough breakup with a new town, a new boyfriend and a future that appeared nothing but bright. Back at the gas pumps, a large man wearing a hoodie under a leather jacket, sweat pants rolled up to his knees and wearing no shoes got out of the Pontiac, filled the tank and headed into the store. Once inside he grabbed a canned soft drink out of the cooler, opened it and started drinking from it while he waited for a mother and her young son to complete their transaction at the counter and leave. He then went up to Leah at the counter, told her to empty the cash register and get down on the floor. Once she was face down on the floor, he calmly pulled a 9mm semiautomatic handgun from his right pocket, reached over the counter and calmly shot Leah Rowlands to death. After just three minutes after walking into the store, the killer nonchalantly walked out, carrying his soda, a pack of cigarettes and $150 in cash. He got back into the Grand Am and drove off. Never to be seen again. Right up to this moment, no one knows who the big man in the hoodie is. There has never been an arrest. And here’s the truly weird and truly awful – and awfully amazing – thing about all of this: The convenience store was completely wired with surveillance cameras. The entire event was caught on videotape, from several angles. The killer stared straight into one of the cameras as he waited for the store to clear out. His unshielded face – while mildly blurry – is clearly visible on the footage from behind the counter, where the murder is recorded in horrifying detail. And no one – no one – has ever identified him. A California license plate on the rear of the Grand Am is illegible. And even though authorities have searched the for that car, it’s never been found. The calmness of the killer’s demeanor – his seeming complete lack of concern that his face, his body features, his clothing were being recorded – makes the entire episode not just tragic – but haunting…to Leah’s family and loved ones and especially to law enforcement. Every available agency, from local police to state authorities to the FBI, continues to work on this case – but until that one person who recognizes her killer comes forward, the case is at a standstill. Take a chilling ride with Melissa back to that Nebraska morning 24 years ago and imagine that you or someone you know can be the one link to bring justice to Leah Rowlands. ALSO - this week Melissa has an update on the Will Cierzan case - a new development that could finally bring justice to Will's family.