Patricia Webb

Law enforcement officials logged nearly 15,000 man hours in the first year of the investigation into Patricia Webb's 1974 death. The case remains unsolved.

It began with a larceny report.

A new employee of the Adult Book and Cinema Store disappeared overnight April 18, 1974, along with 51 bondage-themed adult magazines, a calculator and $30. A cord leading to an extension from a pay phone had been cut and the shop door left unlocked.

Two and a half days later, Oscar Fiene went to feed cattle on a vacant farm he owned east of Hallam and spotted a blue jacket sleeve and patch of thigh barely visible under a haystack.

Patricia Carol Webb’s bullet-riddled body was nude under the hay, except for a quilted jacket, one of 143 extra-large jackets distributed by a feed mill and given to customers or sold to employees. Webb, 24, had a piece of tape over her mouth.

Thirty-eight years later, her death remains one of Lincoln’s greatest murder mysteries.

“This case has been investigated, reinvestigated, reinvestigated. A lot of effort put into it,” said Lincoln Police Sgt. Larry Barksdale, who has been tasked with the investigation since the early 1990s.

Barksdale retired this month, but the case remains open.

Together, Lincoln police, the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, Nebraska State Patrol and FBI logged nearly 15,000 man hours during the first year alone.

They even consulted clairvoyants.

Setting the scene

The 1972 opening of the Adult Book and Cinema at 140 S. 11th St. shocked Lincoln. Before that, adults could catch a skin flick at the Embassy Theater at 17th and O streets, but the idea of being able to buy pornography and take it home was new.

Before the store opened, police seized a truck full of pornography destined for its shelves and arrested the driver.

Manager Jerry Mabie won a legal reprieve and opened the store and another shop at 27th and Holdrege streets that summer, but he faced police raids and more charges ranging from distribution of obscene literature to lack of a permit for coin-operated movie machines.

“Everybody in that era kind of thought anything having to do with pornography was probably organized crime,” Barksdale said.

Common wisdom held that the Mafia ran such stores, along with gambling, drugs and prostitution.

And when the body of the pretty young clerk turned up full of lead, people began to draw conclusions.

“People began wondering if the Mafia knocked her off,” Barksdale said.

Then authorities revealed Webb had been an undercover drug informant for the Nebraska State Patrol and was supposed to testify in court the day she disappeared.

Who killed Patricia Webb?

Police never found the .22- and .25-caliber guns that put at least six bullets in Webb's head and four in her body.

Investigators believed the .22s were fired from a rifle, most likely a Mossberg, and the .25s from a semi-automatic handgun like a Beretta Panther 418 or Tulski Korovin.

They developed three main scenarios.

* Webb was the victim of a robbery or burglary.

* The killer was a sexual psychopath.

* The murder was an execution, possibly related to her work as an informant.

Police investigated possible connections to serial killers and rapists across the country. But the evidence didn’t seem to fit, Barksdale said. Her body wasn’t abused or mutilated, and there was no sign of rape.

“To me, it has always had the makings of an execution,” he said.

He suspects there were two killers and that they moved the body, because little blood was found nearby.

Police never found her clothes, but her purse turned up in a ditch a mile and a half away.

Witnesses came forward to say they saw a young woman leave the store with a black man at about 1 a.m. April 18 and get into a large, older car that looked like a boxy Cadillac or Buick and may have had another person inside.

Police developed two strong suspects, a man matching the description that witnesses gave and his partner, a white man, but they couldn't definitively connect them to the slaying.

“They claimed to be around Lincoln a lot, but they were kind of transient," Barksdale said. "They moved around a lot.”

They were the type of guys you'd hire if you needed cement poured, a hole dug or help collecting a debt, he said.

One of the men since has died and the other disappeared, Barksdale said.

A 'special employee'

Former Lancaster County Attorney Robert Gibson, who died in 1997, said half a dozen drug cases had to be dismissed when Patricia Webb failed to show up to testify. The cases were for small amounts of amphetamines and marijuana, he said, seemingly nothing big enough to make someone desperate enough to kill her.

Larry Ball of Lincoln was an investigator for the State Patrol when Webb was a “special employee” for it. He said in a 1990 interview that she and another undercover informant played key roles in late 1973 and early 1974, setting up 60 or 70 undercover drug buys leading to the arrests and convictions of more than two dozen people.

She stopped the undercover work in early 1974 and wanted to start again, but she owed $3,000 to $4,000 to finance companies, Ball said.

“We told her that she couldn't work for us until she got those bills straightened out.”

Burying the past

Patricia Webb's father, Robert, still lives in the home where she grew up.

The modest white ranch with a Cornhusker-red door sits in the middle of a south-central Lincoln block in an aging but tidy working-class neighborhood. His wife, Joan, died in September 1997.

“The person that killed Patricia has never been revealed. My wife, before she died, and I, we did not want to know who the killer was,” he said last week. “Not now, for it all to be publicized all over again.”

Robert Webb, 88, hopes the killer or killers eventually are brought to justice, but he doesn’t want to relive the pain.

“I have, more or less, buried it all,” he said. “Her murder damned near destroyed my wife."

 

The bullet-riddled body of Patricia Webb, 24, was found next to this haystack on a farm near Hallam on April 20, 1974.

Patricia Webb is buried next to her mother in Lincoln Memorial Park.

She was the daughter of Robert Webb’s brother, and after her mother died when Patricia was 4, Robert and Joan adopted her.

She went to Calvert Elementary School and Pound Junior High, graduated from Southeast High School in 1968.

Patricia Webb loved to roller skate and often took her folks with her to the rink just north of 48th and O streets. In 1967, she was named Miss Nebraska at the North Central Regional Amateur Roller Skating championships in Kansas City. She later won a silver bar representing Nebraska at the national championships in Lincoln.

“When she went out someplace, she always let her mother know where she was going and when she would come home,” her dad said.

Her cousin Aulden “Al” Stewart described her as a beautiful and popular young woman.

When she married in fall 1968, she wore a gown of satin with a high-rise bodice and double lace ruffle. A satin pillbox held her veil, and she carried Tropicana roses centered with a single orchid.

She divorced soon after and enrolled twice at the University of Nebraska but dropped out both times.

After her death, her mother described her as considerate, loving and trustworthy, but restless and unable to find her place.

The investigation continues

From 2007 to 2009, investigators delved back into the files, re-evaluating old evidence and looking for DNA and prints, thanks to an influx of federal money for cold cases, Barksdale said.

“We didn’t get anything.”

They still get occasional tips, but most turn out to be stories told and retold late at night, often after a few beers.

Police have investigated tips involving outlaw motorcycle gangs, serial rapists and satanic cults.

“They named names. … We spent quite a little time tracking those people down and finding them,” Barksdale said. “We do what we can. We try to find these people, we run them down, and we interview them. Most of the time, you can prove those are just stories because they have no details.”

Meanwhile, those who loved Patricia Webb continue to mourn her death and the lack of closure.

“We’re still waiting on the police to do their job,” Stewart said.

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Reach Nicholas Bergin at 402-473-7304 or nbergin@journalstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/LJSBergin.

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