|Published:||May 13, 2013 6:26 PM EDT|
|Updated:||May 14, 2013 11:26 AM EDT|
LEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Shari Telvick was suddenly alone. Like a bolt from out of the blue, the love of her life, Greg Imhoff, was gone. He was dead at the hands of a career criminal in a cruel twist of fate.
Greg Imhoff's killer was no stranger to the Lee County Sheriff's Office. In fact, just days before Imhoff's murder, his killer was questioned about another murder.
Despite circumstantial evidence and a life long rap sheet, the suspected killer was allowed the walk out of the interview room. Billy Ray Retherford was on the run before killing Imhoff, execution style.
Telvick said Imhoff's murder didn't have to happen. She wrote a letter to WINK News and we took it to Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott. He didn't want to talk, so he sent us to Lieutenant Larry King.
"I think he's somewhat offended by the fact that this is still a question," said Lt. Larry King, Lee County Sheriff's Office.
Telvick doesn't care if Sheriff Mike Scott is offended. For her, it's a question that will never go away.
"You had him. I want to know why you let him go," said Telvick.
"To think that we would deliberately or intentionally release someone into the public if there is any way we could keep them here, like I said, is offensive," said King.
"He knew he was going to get caught. It was a sad state of affairs. They should have kept him," said Telvick.
There was no evil in that quiet North Fort Myers neighborhood of retirees and snowbirds. Life was good. Neighbor helped neighbor. Crime was something that happened somewhere else. It's where Telvick and Imhoff found their little piece of paradise, after saying farewell to the chill of Wisconsin winters.
"We considered ourselves partners. We knew each other for 20 years, 10 years as a couple," said Telvick.
But on August 7, 2012, evil came calling. Evil was hiding in a snowbird's empty nest, in the form of Billy Ray Retherford. A career criminal at 42, now Retherford was desperate and on the run from the law.
Just 11 days earlier, on July 24, 2012, the Lee County Sheriff's Office said Retherford murdered Debra Striano, 55, stabbing her repeatedly, robbing her and leaving her lifeless on the floor of her San Carlos home. The day after Striano's murder, Retherford agreed to be questioned by the Lee County Sheriff's Office.
A detective asked, "You didn't have anything to do with the murder of Debra Striano?"
The ex-con and violent felon with nothing to lose said, "No, Sir."
The detective said, "What are they gonna think if you end up getting arrested and charged with this woman's murder?"
Retherford, still on probation, said, "I ain't worried about that, cause I ain't done a thing wrong. I swear on everything I love; I don't do crimes, man. I've done been to prison... 'Cause I know, deep in my heart, and God knows, I done nothin' wrong."
The interview stopped at 11:17 a.m. The felon on probation, just questioned for murder, lied his way out the door and never looked back. It was the first and last time he would be close enough to the law to be handcuffed. By 11:18 a.m., Retherford was on the run.
"They knew he was attached to this crime so they should have done everything they could to make sure he wasn't leaving the building," said Telvick.
Retherford eventually slithered his way into Telvick and Imhoff's neighborhood, breaking into their neighbor's house to hide out. But Telvick and Imhoff had no idea what lurked nearby. Imhoff was still doing what he always did. He was helping others, and house sitting for neighbors.
"He's gotten up in the middle of the night to get people off the floor who can't get up because he was the strongest, youngest man in our community," said Telvick.
The day Imhoff was murdered, Telvick came home to an empty house.
"He was always out and about, doing things, so I wasn't concerned," said Telvick.
It was getting late and still no Imhoff.
"I called again, and then I started getting worried at about 7:00 that something was up," said Telvick.
Telvick and friends began a frantic search. Imhoff was not coming home.
"The police came first, then the ambulance pronounced him dead and then, it was like 10 minutes later, there were police everywhere," said Telvick.
Imhoff was killed, execution style, inside the house he was checking on. Deputies said the murder weapon was an unsecured gun in the home, used by Retherford. So why did Retherford walk out of that interview room, 11 days earlier, and kill again?
"There was no probable cause, or we would have kept him. No matter what it would have been...if it was probation violation or if it's another crime," said Lt. King.
"It's a simple phone call. They knew he was a career criminal," said Telvick.
"Everybody's probation is a little bit different, so I can't say that, but in this circumstance there was no reason to reach out to the probation officer yet," said King.
"They could have called him, and then he would have been held, and Greg would have been here today," said Telvick.
"We didn't have probable cause to hold him," said King.
There was no probable cause to hold Retherford, call his probation officer or search his house. But 24 hours after Retherford walked out, suddenly they had probable cause for a search warrant. So WINK News asked, what did they know after Retherford's interview that they did not know before they let him go?
King would only say that "In general, the difference was physical evidence and witness corroboration, which was not volunteered until after our interview with Retherford."
They searched his house and found drugs. That lead to an arrest warrant for a probation violation, but it was too late. Retherford was gone, and Imhoff was just days away from being dead.
"He was Mr. Everything to me, and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of him, and he is all around me. I'm hoping that I can get some peace from this down the road, but Greg was the love of my life, and its going to be very difficult," said Imhoff.
In the end, nothing can bring back the love of her life. Also, there will be no trial. Billy Ray Retherford had nothing to lose when he was cornered by law enforcement. He tried one last time to kill, but U.S. Marshals killed Retherford in a shoot out.
For Telvick, it means some bit of closure. She's left Florida, and is back in Wisconsin now, trying to move on with her life.