EUGENE, Ore. -- Retired detectives have solved a Lane County murder mystery that began 44 years ago. It involves the shooting deaths of two teenagers from Eugene, and the killer won’t spend a single minute in prison.
For 31 years, Kurt Wuest has been solving Lane County crimes. He’s now retired but still focuses on the ones that remain unsolved. Wuest, Chuck Tilby, and Kirk Engdall make up the Cold Case Unit. Engdall is a retired state and federal prosecutor and Tilby spent 33 years with the Eugene Police Department.
One of the coldest cases they’ve been working on just heated up.
“This was a huge case, and everyone was talking about it,” Wuest said.
It was a Thursday, June 9, 1977. Two students from North Eugene High School, who were high school sweethearts -- Eric Goldstrand, 17, and Lliana Adank, 16 -- had driven up Highway 58 in Eric’s truck to the Fall Creek area for a picnic and a day of swimming and fishing.
They were supposed to be home by 10 p.m.; however, earlier that evening Eric had called his father, Ted, to let him know he was having trouble with the truck. Eric told his father to come look for them if they weren’t home by then. When Eric and Lliana didn’t show up, Eric’s father and mother headed up the highway.
“And when we got into his truck, we found their clothes, so we knew they had only their swimsuits on,” Donna Berbach said.
A deputy was called and they split up and searched while Donna waited. They found Lliana’s body. She had been sexually assaulted and shot to death.
With fears they would disturb evidence and the crime scene, they backed out with intentions of investigating in the morning. They didn’t tell Donna that Lliana’s body had been found, and Ted and Donna headed back to town.
The next morning a large group showed up at their home, including their pastor.
“I had an idea it was the worst I could think, and they informed me had found him and he was deceased,” Berbach said.
Lliana’s cousin, Kathy Kloster, remembers getting the news.
“You know their lives were cut short so fast with so much to live for. Lliana was a fun-loving, happy, full-of-life person, just like Eric,” Kloster said.
Wuest said detectives did great work at the time with the tools they had, but the DNA collected never led to a match. Days turned to weeks, weeks to months, months to years, causing 44 years of frustration.
“You take it personally. I mean, it's a couple of high school kids just having a picnic and fishing, and, just totally out of the blue,” Wuest said.
During those decades, technology advanced to the point DNA can reveal hair and eye color, race and even some facial features. That information was given to Parabon Labs for genealogy and forensics research.
“They actually gave us a picture of the individual,” Wuest said.
The picture and DNA helped them track it down to a family in Oakridge and one of three family members. Wuest said DNA from a cigarette butt eliminated one, meaning it was one of two brothers now living in Mesa, Arizona.
As Wuest and his team were closing in, the brothers got into a fight with each other. The younger one was hurt and police were called. Just before they arrived, Ronald Albert Shroy committed suicide. Speculating, Wuest thinks he knows why.
“Part of his committing suicide is he's thinking this is coming,” Wuest said.
They contacted Shroy's brother and began asking questions. What kind of car was he driving at the time? Did he have a history of sexual assault?
After six months of delays, a final DNA test confirmed Ronald Shroy was the killer and the cold case was solved. Families were notified, and Kloster said she'll never forget seeing Wuest's caller ID appear on her phone.
“He had called me a month earlier and said we're closing in, but you can't say anything, but I'll call you when we have a conclusion, so I knew,” Kloster said.
She said she’d never entirely lost hope, and neither had Donna Berbach.
“I didn't think it was an impossibility, but I thought it was far reaching,” Berbach said.
Even though they know who the killer was, Wuest said the only people who knew exactly what happened and why are dead. Kloster said it’s painful, but she can live with that.
“It's a relief he's not going to be able to hurt anyone again, but there's a part of us who wanted to see him and know why and all those things we're never going to know,” Kloster said.
“It feels good that I don't have to go to a trial. I would have been terrified that he would have gotten off,” Berbach said.
Berbach and Kloster said they're forever grateful for these dedicated detectives -- Wuest, Tilby and Engdall -- who didn't give up. They said other families in their position should remain hopeful too. But they have another message to another group: DNA and genealogy are game changers.
“And it should say to those criminals, just because you've made it this far, don't look over your shoulder ‘cause one day they'll be knocking on your door,” Kloster said.