How Charlotte County cold case detectives find justice for families

Published: September 12, 2019 8:48 PM EDT
Updated: September 13, 2019 11:44 AM EDT

When a murder case goes cold, the victim’s loved ones are left in limbo. Sharon McPhillips knows this pain all too well. Her fight for justice seemed never-ending for many years. That is, until the trio of detectives that make up the Charlotte County Cold Case Unit took on her daughter’s cold case.

“I believed in them from the beginning,” McPhillips said. “It was just a feeling I had — and I wanted so bad for them to come in and solve this. ”

McPhillip’s daughter, Tara Sidarovich, was murdered in 2001 at her Punta Gorda home by two handymen. It took 16 years to bring her daughter’s killers to justice. “You just don’t ever give up,” said McPhillips, who now lives in Pennsylvania. “You gotta find the strength.”

McPhillips told WINK News, the cold case detectives helped her to keep going and keep hope alive. Detective Mike Gandy, who heads the Charlotte County Cold Case Unit, works alongside detectives Kurt Mehl and Mike Vogel. The trio has more than a century of investigative experience between them, coming out of retirement nearly a decade ago to form the dedicated unit focusing squarely on cold cases.

“We owe the dead the truth,” Vogel said.

To find it, detectives often refer to cold cases as puzzles.

“You’re missing the pieces and somebody finally gives you some of the pieces, but not all of them, and then they say, ‘Okay you can solve this, but you got to put it together in the dark,’” Gandy said. “Time is what we devote to these cases and that’s how they get solved having the amount of time needed to work on them and we’re given that.”

In the past three years, they have solved three cases. These are the 1999 murder of Pilar Rodriguez, 3 years old; the 2001 murder of Victoria Arena, 32 years old; and the 2001 murder of Tara Sidarovich, 19 years old. The detectives took on the Sidarovich case in 2010, which was their first investigation as a unit.

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“He said they were going to treat this like is if it was their daughter, and like, it would end on their watch,” McPhillips said. “And they did it. They did it.”

“It makes it personal,” Detective Mehl said. “You want to make it right and you want to fix it.”
The team worked the Sidarovich case for over six years, among other cold cases. The team’s personal connection with Sidarovich’s mother evolved into a deep trust.

“I speak to her even today and it’s been two years since the last trial,” Mehl said.
“They’ll still give me the strength if I need it,” McPhillips said. “If it weren’t for those three detectives, Tara wouldn’t have justice. They fought so hard with dedication, compassion, professionalism, kindness.”

Today, McPhillips tries to focus only on the good memories of her daughter’s life, not on her death.

“Now we can heal and think of all the good times that we had,” McPhillips said. “She brought us such joy.”