The Justice Files: A decade of elderly women murders

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 SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – It was a decade of elderly women being murdered in Salt Lake County.

In the 1980s nine elderly women were killed, some by a serial murderer and others randomly.  Of all the cases, two remain unsolved.

In 1985 the body of 79-year-old Jean Muir was found inside her home.  Authorities said she was stabbed multiple times.

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“Looks like she had been struggling,” said an unnamed relative who was at the scene.

In that same year, Mary Deluca of Midvale and Drucilla Ovard of South Salt Lake are also murdered.
Three years earlier, 1982, Wilhelmina Reid was assaulted and murdered in her home.

“It was a horrible thing, not only was she a victim, but the rest of us were victims,” said her granddaughter Sandra Solomon-Venezia.

And 81-year-old Bertha Hughes was also assaulted and beaten similar to Reid.  She too was murdered in 1982.

Then there was Ethel Luckau, another victim murdered in her home.  In 1989 police found 
71-year-old Flora Rundle stabbed multiple times.

The remains of Thelma Blodgett were exhumed five years after her death.  Police learned she too was a murder victim. Over the course of the decade, police tried to link the murders of the elderly women.

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Like that of Lucille Westerman, who in 1988 was strangled.  She managed to survive but died three weeks later. Finally, police pieced together four of the murders naming Daniel Troyer as a suspect.
Prosecutors called him a serial killer. He confessed to murdering Ovard and Luckau and received two life sentences.

“We’re convinced that justice has been found and it brings closure to all this after all this time,” said Paul Luckau, the victim’s son in 1999.

But there was not enough evidence to charge Troyer with Westerman and Blodgett’s murder.
At a press conference in 2014, Salt Lake County’s sheriff announced the arrest of Gary Dean Hilfiker.

“We are committed to the families of the victims of these heinous crimes to pursue them relentlessly for decades if necessary,” said the former sheriff.

Hilfiker was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Flora Rundle.

And after nearly 40 years on the run, Bryan Reed was charged in late 2019 with the murder of  Wilhelmina Reid.   Reid was a teenager when he allegedly murdered the elderly woman.  His trial is pending.

But it’s the murders of Bertha Hughes and Jean Muir that still puzzle a detective with a cold case unit.
Ben Pender with Unified Police said Hughes lived alone and a nurse was caring for her.  One day in 1982, the nurse arrived at Hughes home and saw something unusual with the curtains as she approached the home.  

“We believe there was a forced entry into the residence and the nurse entered the residence and found Bertha there inside the residence deceased,” said Pender.

At the time, Hughes lived across from where the old Granite High School once existed. Pender said several persons of interest were questioned but there was never an arrest. He said evidence found at the scene is  being analyzed again.

“Something that was examined 10 or 15 years ago, we can re-examine that today,” said Pender.  “Sometimes we can be successful at that.  It all depends on the item.”

As for Muir’s murder, her case also remains unsolved. According to police reports at the time, she spoke with friends about an hour before her murder. A friend was actually coming to pick her up for a holiday gathering. But she was killed before the friend arrived at the home. Authorities at the time said she was robbed and then repeatedly stabbed with a knife.

Anyone with information about Hughes or Muir murder can contact Pender with the Unified Police Department’s cold case unit.

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