ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) – After years of endless tips and dead ends CBS46's crime scene investigator Sheryl 'Mac' McCollum said she's one-step closer to finding Diane Shields killer.
“It's potentially a break,” she said.
In 1967, the 22-year-old receptionist was found strangled and beaten beyond recognition, crammed inside the trunk of her car.
“Her fiancé literally had to identify her by the engagement ring and the dress she was wearing,” said.
Mac has been investigating this case for 15 years with some of the city's most prolific cold case experts, including licensed private detective, John Fedack.
“You go through reports. You go on the internet. I've called people in California and Sea Island. And people in Canada,” said Fedack. “There was nothing in the files that just jumped out until our colleagues came up with some information.”
Shields’ death is woven into the fabric of Atlanta's dark folklore: a pretty, young blonde, engaged to be married, last seen leaving work in her Chevy Impala.
But she never made it home.
“All the men wanted her, and all the women wanted to be her,” Mac said.
Her murder happened just 18 months after Atlanta's most notorious missing person's case: Mary Shotwell Little.
In 1965, Little – a bank secretary – vanished into the night outside Lenox Square, which was then a small open-air shopping center not the high-end mega mall we know today.
Her last goodbye was to a friend following dinner and shopping. Little's car was later found with blood smears on the front seats.
“Mary Shotwell Little is literally the largest manhunt in Atlanta history,” said Mac. “Her case file was larger with the FBI than the assassination of Bobby Kennedy.”
Although the women never met, they're connected by coincidence and immortalized in conspiracy theories revolving around sex scandals and hits by a lesbian mafia.
After Little disappeared, Shields took her secretary job at Citizens and Southern Bank – even sitting at Little's old desk and rooming with her former roommates.
Now 52 years later, Mac is convinced the alleged killer is hiding in plain sight – right here in metro Atlanta.
“I feel very confident he wants to tell it. I think he's been waiting to tell it. I think that's why he keeps contacting people,” she said.
Evidence from both cases has mysteriously disappeared. But CBS46 has exclusive access to hundreds of pages in Shields' case file including emails sent to a law enforcement source from the alleged killer.
“We knew we didn't have the fingerprint. We knew we didn't have the blood. We knew we didn't have the clothing, but what we did have was words,” said Mac. “And these words to me are very critical and I think they're the best evidence we have going forward.”
The emails were reviewed by renowned statement analyst Peter Hyatt with his team of more than 50 experts.
“They concluded that the person who wrote this had knowledge of who murdered Diane, how she was murdered and why she was murdered,” she said.
Fedack, who has been working on the case with Mac for years, said the analysis is validation their investigation is on the track to bring the Shields’ family closure.
“To me that is startling, it is right on the money. It is everything we thought,” he said.
Fedack said Shields demeanor changed in the days leading up to her murder.
“She was becoming secretive. And mysterious. She told a couple of people she was helping police with the Mary Shotwell Little case,” he said.
They said the killer is an acquaintance of Shields, whose crush turned into a deadly infatuation after he was rejected.
“Diane Shields is beautiful, she's engaged, everybody likes her,” Mac said. “If you can be jilted to the point that you would murder someone, that doesn’t go away. Ever.”
Police found her car in East Point, at a Laundromat at Sylvan Road and Cleveland Avenue. A scarf and a piece of paper from a phone book were shoved down her throat.
“Who would do that level of violence and not sexually assault her? Not rob her?” said Mac. “That level of anger is from somebody that might have been jilted.”
Although Mac doesn’t believe the two cases are connected, she said finding Shields’ killer opens the pathway to solving Little’s disappearance.
“If we can solve Diane Shields then we're going to be closer to solving Mary Shotwell Little,” she said.
Mac plans to turn over a legal brief of findings to the GBI and East Point police before Thanksgiving. She said there could be a break in the case before Christmas.
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