John Paul Phillips (1 Viewer)


John Paul Phillips

Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Rape
Number of victims: 3 +
Date of murders: 1975-1976 / 1981
Date of arrest: January 8, 1982
Date of birth: 1953
Victims profile: Theresa Clark, 22 / Kathleen T. McSharry, 24 / Joan Wetherall
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife / Hitting with a hammer
Location: Carbondale, Illinois, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on 1986. Died on death row on November 2, 1993

DNA helps solve two cold case murders

Police: Kathleen McSharry, Theresa Clark killed by same man

By Blackwell Thomas - The Southern Illinoisan

Thursday, September 18, 2008

CARBONDALE - A new technique for identifying DNA has helped Carbondale Police solve two cold murder cases and they say it could help law enforcement agencies everywhere do the same.

On Thursday, police announced that they had closed the books on the 1976 murder of Kathleen McSharry by using degraded DNA evidence to link convicted murderer John Paul Phillips to the crime.

The technique, known as Mini STR sampling, allows police to use DNA materials that previously would have been too damaged or decayed to be of any use.

In this case, the police used skin samples found underneath the fingernails of McSharry's left hand. The samples were taken at McSharry's autopsy in July 1976 and matched DNA extracted from a femur bone from Phillips.

Phillips died in 1993 while on death row for the murder of Joan Wetherall, another Carbondale resident who was strangled with a rope, clubbed on the head with a hammer and left naked in a strip pit north of Carbondale in 1981.

William Frank, a DNA research coordinator with the state police's Research and Development Lab, explained the new technology.

"As DNA degrades, it (the amount of useable material) gets smaller and smaller," he said. "This (mini STR testing) allows us to use it as it gets smaller and degraded."

Frank said the new technology has increased by a factor of 100 the ability of scientists to identify DNA compared to earlier DNA technology, which he said was from "the age of dinosaurs" in comparison.

Illinois State Police is the first law enforcement agency to use the technology, Frank said.

McSharry's nude body was found in her Allyn Street apartment bedroom by her roommate July 12, 1976. The 24-year-old Southern Illinois University Carbondale student was stabbed in the back, had her throat slit and was sexually assaulted.

Police also announced they were closing the books on the 1975 murder of 23-year-old Theresa Clark, who was found dead in her apartment in a manner almost identical to McSharry's.

Carbondale Police Officer Lt. Paul Echols said the cases were mirrors of one another and that from the outset of the McSharry investigation, police believed the two crimes were committed by the same person.

This fact, coupled with a jailhouse confession Phillips gave to his cellmate in the early 1980s in which he admitted to killing McSharry, Clark and Wetherall, was enough for police to close the books on the Clark case, said Echols.

"We are comfortable to close the Clark case," he said.

Chief Bob Ledbetter credited Frank and the state forensics lab and said he was pleased to have two cold cases closed and that he was excited by the new technology's capabilities.

"It is truly exciting to watch the evolution of the technology that is enabling us to solve crimes," he said. "I've watched it evolve from a fingerprint being the best way to identify a suspect."

DNA testing rules out suspect in 20-year-old Southern Illinois U. murder

By Phil Beckman - Daily Egyptian

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Carbondale, Ill. - Convicted murderer John Paul Phillips was eliminated as a suspect in the 1981 murder of an Southern Illinois University student after a test showed that his DNA did not match DNA found at the scene, Carbondale police said Monday.

On Oct. 30, 2001, Carbondale police officers supervised the exhumation of Phillips body at the Rose Hill Cemetery in Marion. A portion of Phillips' leg bone was taken from the remains and was sent to the Illinois State Police DNA Lab in Springfield.

"From the police department's standpoint, since his genetic code does not match the evidence, and we strongly feel the evidence was left by the suspect, this eliminates him as a suspect," said Carbondale Police Sgt. Paul Echols.

Susan K. Schumake was raped and murdered on Aug. 17, 1981. Her body was found in a wooded area between U.S. 51 and the Illinois Central Gulf railroad tracks near a trail the students at the time called the "Ho Chi Minh Trail." Schumake was 21 and a senior in radio-television.

Now, Echols said, police will research the case file to look for other possible suspects from the original investigation.

Carbondale Police Chief R.T. Finney said if leads are developed, the police department will dedicate manpower to them.

"We will do that on murder cases," Finney said. "That's never a question. We'll do what we have to to get them solved."

Among the possible suspects was a man who was a drifter at the time and was questioned by police in connection with the Schumake murder. Echols said Carbondale police have kept an eye on him during the years and know where he is. Echols declined to give his name since the man remains a possible suspect.

The DNA sample left at the crime scene was also tested against others in the database and no match was found. Echols said now that it is known that the person who left the genetic material at the crime scene is not in the database, this eliminates many potential suspects.

Phillips' DNA will also become part of the Illinois DNA database and will be accessible by law enforcement agencies across the nation.

With the expansion of the DNA database to include all felons, as the years go by, the DNA profile from the crime scene will be compared to other samples that are added.

Phillips was convicted of the 1981 murder of Joan Wetherall and sentenced to death in 1986. He was charged after confessing to a cellmate in 1983 that he had murdered Theresa Clark, Kathleen McSharry and Wetheral.

Phillips died of a heart attack in 1993 while on death row and was never charged in the Schumake case.

Police said evidence collected from the 1976 McSharry murder was insufficient for DNA profiling and thus were not able to determine if Phillips was connected to the murder. Finney said Phillips remains a suspect.

John Paul Phillips being brought in for a sentencing hearing in 1986.
(Photo courtesy of The Southern Illinoisan newspaper).

Right femur removed from John Paul Phillips' remains.

Vacutainer tubes containing wooden sticks used to collect fingernail scrapings
from Kathleen McSharry's body during the autopsy in 1976.

Lt. Paul Echols of the Carbondale Police Department talks about various forms of evidence that were used
to conclude John Paul Phillips was responsible for the murders of Kathleen McSharry and Theresa Clark.
The photo on the screen is from Phillips' trial and was taken by The Southern Illinoisan in 1986.
(Chuck Novara / The Southern)


Kathleen T. McSharry, 24

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