Published March 13. 2014 4:00AM Updated March 14. 2014 12:35AM
The Southeastern Connecticut Cold Case Task Force has revived the investigation of the unsolved 2002 homicide of Westerly fisherman Christopher Schmeller after receiving new information.
"We have some guys working really hard on it," said Kenneth W. Edwards Jr. of the chief state's attorney's office.
The task force draws officers from several local police agencies to take a fresh look at unsolved homicide cases. Of the five cases the task force is concentrating on, the Schmeller investigation is the one with the most traction right now, Edwards said. He said he could not elaborate on the new information but that task force members have been in touch with Schmeller's father and brother.
Schmeller, 31, had gone missing eight days before his body was discovered Oct. 8, 2002, on a sloped embankment off Parkway South in Waterford. The state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled he died of blunt trauma to the head. His body likely was disposed at the site after he was killed.
"It's quite apparent the murder didn't occur in Waterford," Edwards said. "Where the actual murder occurred we don't know, but all indications are that it was somewhere in the Pawcatuck area."
The governor's office has authorized a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for Schmeller's death. The task force has hung fliers in businesses and other public places throughout local towns and villages, including Pawcatuck, Westerly, Stonington, Ashaway, R.I., and Charlestown, R.I.
Schmeller, who had a history of domestic violence, larceny and drug-related crimes, was last seen in the Pawcatuck area on Sept. 26, 2002. He had been scheduled to appear in court in Wakefield, R.I., that day. A friend he was staying with told The Day that another close friend dropped Schmeller off at court that morning.
At that point, he became nervous about being left on his own because a man he feared had shown up to see him in court. The police received information that he was dropped off in Pawcatuck, which was the last place he was seen.
The cold case investigators are working with the New London state's attorney's office as they attempt to obtain an arrest warrant.
The state's attorney's office has successfully prosecuted several cold cases in recent years, winning convictions and life sentences for the killers of April Dawn Pennington in 1996 and Renee Pellegrino in 1997.
The office secured convictions on lesser charges and shorter sentences for suspects arrested in other cold cases, including the 1993 strangling death of Bertha Reynolds in Norwich and the 2006 shooting death of Sean Hill, also in Norwich.
State's Attorney Michael L. Regan said cold cases by their nature are difficult to prosecute.
"When the original police departments looked at them, they were difficult," he said. As time goes by, they get even more difficult.
In the Reynolds case, Regan said the state ran into memory issues with witnesses and lost evidence and experts from the medical examiner's office who were no longer employed by the state. But the case served as a learning experience and his office remains committed to resolving cold cases, Regan said.
"Just because a case is difficult doesn't mean we're going to drop it," he said.
The regional cold case task force has more than 20 unsolved homicides dating back to 1978 to work with, but it is concentrating on five cases.
In addition to the Schmeller homicide, they are looking the hardest at the December 2012 shooting death of Kyle Seidel in Waterford; the fatal beating of Anthony Hamlin in Ledyard in January 2006; the March 1995 stabbing death of William Spicer in Groton; and the March 1984 strangulation of Desiree Michaud in Groton.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Connecticut Cold Case Hotline at (866) 623-8058 or the New London State's Attorney's office at (860) 443-2835.