Jennifer Lynn Stone

The end of innocence – 22 year later, Athens murder remains unsolved

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The end of innocence: Jennifer Lynn Stone

Jennifer Lynn Stone

Walking down North Hull Street late one night, passing a quaint carriage house tucked behind the Southeastern Stages bus station, one likely would never realize it the site of a savage killing.

The carriage house at 187 N. Hull Street is where the life of Jennifer Lynn Stone, a 22-year-old University of Georgia student, was brutally cut short in April 1992 by a man who authorities say raped and murdered her.

That murder remains unsolved.

For students enjoying the carefree days of college or immersed in the vibrant nightlife that surrounded Stone’s residence, the crime marked the end of innocence.

“It was surreal,” said Tim Brown, a UGA student who was becoming close friends with Stone at the time of her death. “We were all suddenly launched into a much more sinister world.”

Brown and other friends often began or ended their nights at Stone’s home, which was within walking distance of all the hot spots and was the envy of the advertising student’s friends.

“We spent a lot of time at the Georgia Bar, because that’s where all the groovy people hung out. You’d go there and see Michael Stipe sitting at one table and Keith Strickland at the other,” Brown said, referring to founding members of R.E.M. and the B-52s, respectively.

Stone lived in the three-room carriage house with her three cats and across the street from R.E.M.’s office on West Clayton Street.

The young woman from Roswell was the kind of person everyone wanted to call a friend.

“Jenny was just a really cool, neat and funny person,” said Brown, who double-dated with Stone and her boyfriend at Kappa Delta’s winter formal. “She was a sorority girl, but wasn’t really big about that. She bridged the Greek life and downtown scene very well.”

Brown stopped by Stone’s home the night before her body was discovered to drop off an invitation to a party he was throwing, and after she didn’t answer his knocks he wedged the invitation in her door.

He came back at about 6 p.m. the next day and saw the invitation was where he left it, and also thought it strange that the convertible top to Stone’s Volkswagen was still down.

“It was all very creepy, like something was wrong,” Brown said.

Just an hour later, students who were working on a project with Stone stopped by to find out why she didn’t show up at a planned meeting of their mock advertising company, and through a cracked door they saw Stone’s body in the bedroom.

Word spread rapidly that there had been a murder downtown, the first in many years.

“We heard that someone had been killed down the street and we could see all the police cars down there, and we were all thinking we’d better tell Jenny to be careful when she goes out in the middle of the night,” Brown said. “A friend of mine called to say that Jenny was the person who was killed. Nothing was ever the same after that.”

For the next three days, the North Hull Street carriage house became what Athens-Clarke police said at the time was the most thoroughly examined and guarded crime scene in the department’s history, with detectives and forensic technicians documenting and cataloging every shred of potential evidence.

“We worked that case into the ground,” recalled retired Athens-Clarke police Lt. W.J. Smith, who was lead investigator. “I don’t know of anything we asked for from the police department, the GBI and the FBI that we did not get. Some of the finest, most dedicated people I have ever worked with were involved with this case.”

Smith and a team of detectives and Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents questioned dozens of potential suspects and tracked down hundreds of leads. From all that work, authorities developed theories on how they believe Stone was killed, and this is the best that Smith said was developed:

On the day of the crime, Stone worked into the early morning hours on the project for the mock advertising company, then decided to take a break.

She left her home sometime after 1 a.m. for some fresh air. Authorities know she was alive at that time because it’s when her boyfriend called her. Stone returned home and surprised a burglar, who had slipped in through an unlocked door.

They struggled in the kitchen and the burglar forced the student into the bedroom where he raped and strangled her to death.

Brown said he stopped by Stone’s home at about 2:30 a.m., saw the bedroom light on and knocked, but no one answered.

“The police think I may have scared (the murderer) away because the person fled out the back door, which until that time had been painted shut,” the former UGA student said.

Authorities theorize that Stone’s killer traded one of her stolen cameras for a rock of crack cocaine at a pool hall nearby, then crossed West Broad Street to trade another stolen camera for more crack at the Parkview Homes housing complex.

Witnesses described the person with the cameras as a light-skinned black man with a slight mustache no one had ever seen before. That description is consistent with the evidence from DNA the killer left behind.

Scientists at the GBI’s State Crime Lab determined that hair on Stone’s bed bore traits of a biracial person, and DNA from the hair matched the killer’s semen.

Police recovered both cameras, one during a drug raid off Jefferson Road. The film in the camera showed Stone’s nephews and nieces posing for a peanut butter advertisement she was working on, according to Smith.

Alan Brown, recently retired as an Athens-Clarke assistant police chief, was a sergeant when he partnered with Smith on the Stone investigation.

Like Smith, he thinks Stone may have been killed by a transient criminal, someone who left town from the bus station next to Stone’s carriage house.

But he’s not convinced.

“I never did lock into any one theory, and I’m still open to the possibility that it was someone she may have known, or that it was someone who was from out of town and came through on a bus,” Alan Brown said.

Though police questioned several witnesses and potential suspects, they never identified the killer. But authorities still have genetic evidence from the rape, and if the cold case is ever solved it will likely be done as the result of a DNA match.

Georgia prisons didn’t begin taking DNA samples from all inmates until 2000, eight years after Stone was murdered. But GBI crime lab officials check at least once a month to see if a criminal entered into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) has the same DNA as the man who left semen and hair when he murdered Stone, according to Assistant Deputy GBI Director Ted Staples, formerly manager of forensic biology for his agency.

Dozens of people gave DNA samples, which allowed investigators to rule them out as suspects, while others didn’t give samples, but were discounted because they were white, according to Smith. Tipsters even told police the killer might be the son of a local judge, who did not give a DNA sample, but investigators said they accounted for his whereabouts at the time Stone was murdered and concluded he couldn’t have committed the crime.

The fact there hasn’t been any DNA matches either means the killer had not re-offended since 2000 or is dead, according to authorities.

Smith said he will never forget Jenny Stone and still hopes for justice.

“I still offer $1,000 of my own money to anyone who comes up with information that leads to the arrest and prosecution of the murderer,” he said, adding he’d even volunteer his own time in retirement should authorities identify a viable suspect.

Anyone with any information about Stone’s murder should call the GBI at 1-800-597-TIPS.