Judith Cabanillas was only 13 when her sister was found dead at a farmhouse in Iowa. That was 40 years ago in 1974. Each year the murder went unsolved. Cabanillas became a mother herself and named her daughter after her dead sister all the while working to keep the case from being forgotten.
Now, nearly four decade later Cabanillas’ quest to find the killer could be close as a suspect goes on trial starting Tuesday for the death of 17-year old Mary Jayne Jones, who was a drive-in restaurant employee when she was killed in 1974.
When authorities found her body, investigators suspected the cousin of the homeowner. The cousin had been accused of enticing another female to that same farmhouse and forcing her to take part in a sex act.
However, authorities never charged Robert Pilcher since they had little or no evidence. However, in 2010 that would change. Pilcher was linked to sheets in the farmhouse through DNA testing. The sheets were on the bed where authorities found the naked body of Jones.
The trial is expected to take two weeks to complete and Pilcher is facing charges first-degree murder. Picher, who is now 6, has maintained his innocence.
However, for the family of the victim, the trial is at last an opportunity to put the man they have always felt was responsible behind bars.
Max Marlin, Pilcher’s cousin was the owner of the farmhouse but at the time of the murder was in California. His father went to the property the afternoon of the murder to farm. When his dinner was brought by his wife, she found the girl dead in the bedroom. Authorities said the girl had been beaten, raped and shot in the heart and the face.
Pilcher was 27 at the time of the murder and operated his own extermination business. He was able to enter his cousin’s home, which was known to host large parties.
A barmaid in a local bar told authorities Pilcher had taken her to the home four days prior to the murder and forced her to perform oral sex after handcuffing her to a bedpost.
While attempting to build their case for murder, authorities won a trial convicting Pilcher of sodomizing the bar employee. That however was overturned in 1975 after the Supreme Court in Iowa found the sodomy law in the state was unconstitutional.