Getting away with murder

Published: Nov. 16, 2017 at 4:25 PM EST
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A family searching for answers after a cold-blooded killing. Who murdered Dean Webster, and why? It was 16 years ago today that Dean Webster was found dead, and now an investigator in the state's major crime unit may be the family's best bet at finally getting closure in the case.

Joe Webster lights up when he talks about fishing and hunting with his sons. But especially that huge nine-point buck his son Dean bagged in a Starksboro swamp 20 years ago. "We took a lot of pictures of that baby," Webster said.

Dean took hunting seriously. But that's about all. His family describes the 28-year-old as a clumsy jokester. The kid who liked to make people laugh, especially his little sister, Sandy. "If I ever said I had a best friend, he was my best friend," Sandy Webster said.

Dean was supposed to meet Sandy the night of November 15, 2001. He never showed. "Every time someone says it's gets easier, with time it passes, it really doesn't," she said.

The next day a friend made a gruesome discovery -- Dean shot dead outside the home he was building in Rochester. Two bullets to the head and chest.

"I didn't believe it. Who could do such a thing? And why?" said his mom, Joan. Her heartbreak is as raw today as it was 16 years ago. "You look for answers that just don't come."

But Vermont State Police Detective Tyson Kinney hopes to finally get the family those answers. He's pouring over old evidence, and gathering new evidence to try to solve this cold case. "There's nothing to show he had any enemies or beefs with anybody," Kinney said.

But it's tricky. Dean was well-known and well-liked in his community. "If he met you, he was your friend. He was that type of guy," Kinney said.

Dean was following in his dad's footsteps as a talented pipe fitter and welder -- a hard-worker. He was so proud of his new home tucked away in the hills of Windsor County.

The shooting happened six days into Vermont's rifle season and the Webster property is surrounded by woods. But now police are revealing new details about the case as to why this was not the scene of a hunting accident.

"This is murder," Kinney said, pointing out that the deadly weapon used was not for hunting. There were multiple shots, and the killer was close -- under 50 feet away.

Reporter Darren Perron: So this person knew what the target was?

Detective Tyson Kinney: Absolutely.

Reporter Darren Perron: Do you have any suspects?

Detective Tyson Kinney: Everyone is a suspect.

The detective won't name anyone, but says it's possible the killer is among the dozens of people questioned. And he says Dean likely saw who pulled the trigger. A secret he took to his grave. And it's doubtful the killer mistook Dean for someone else.

Reporter Darren Perron: Will this person get away with murder?

Detective Tyson Kinney: I hope not. It's my intention to find out who is responsible, and to bring this person to justice.

The challenge is that the case is 16-years-old and involves tracking down old witnesses -- some passed away, some got married and changed their names, and others moved. "Once we find that person we have to battle sixteen years of memory loss," Kinney said.

But detectives have new technology on their side to reexamine evidence including DNA. And he says someone is holding the missing piece of the puzzle, a key bit of information that's crucial to an arrest. "It's going to take one person with the right information to break this case wide open," Kinney said.

Even what might seem like insignificant details could be just what they need. Or perhaps, alliances have shifted in 16 years. "They may be willing to come forward with info that they didn't or may have lied about back then," Kinney said.

"It's just a senseless crime to somebody who didn't deserve it," Joan Webster said. She remembers the last conversation she had with her son. He stopped by to show her a new portable sawmill he planned to use on his new home. "He said, 'Bye mom, I love you.' I said, 'I love you too honey,'"

He never finished the house, but his sister Sandy did, and she moved in. Reminders of Dean are everywhere. "I just couldn't give it up. He was so proud of his house. He was proud of this property," she said.

"When you lose a son you lose everything." Joe Webster said. He says the killer took everything from their family when that person pulled the trigger. And the 78-year-old hopes for closure before he dies. "There's always a void in your life," he said. "I just plain miss him. More than anything in the world. I'd rather be dead myself than lose a son."

State Police say the original investigators did a good job of collecting evidence in this case, so they've got a lot to work with now. And that helped uncover new evidence they can't reveal because only the killer would know about it. And that could help -- in making an arrest.