Thirty-seven years ago, a good friend of mine was murdered early in the morning in her apartment. For most of the time since then no one was held accountable for this crime. The case was recently solved and the details will be covered in an upcoming television show that focuses on cold cases. I was asked to be a part of this show to talk about my friend and the impact a cold case has on the friends and family of the victim.
While I was working on my aerospace engineering degree at Auburn University from 1977 to 1982, I was enrolled in a work/study program with NASA. For four years, I spent summers and winters in Hampton, Va., on work assignments for NASA.
I made friends with a lot of amazing people in the Hampton area, especially through a local snow skiing club. A group of us would go on ski trips during winter weekends and play a lot of sports and go on beach trips during the summer months.
One of the people that I became friends with was Olivia Christian. We met on my very first snow skiing trip. Olivia was an elementary school teacher and was one of the most unique and caring people I have ever known. She made sure everyone was having a good time no matter what activity we were doing. Whenever Olivia was part of an activity, there was always laughter.
During the summer of 1981, I was completing my last of seven student intern assignments with NASA. Friday, Sept. 4, 1981 was my last day as a NASA student intern. I spent the day filling out forms and saying goodbye to the people I had been working with. My parents had come to visit me from Alabama for the weekend and I had dinner with them after work.
When I arrived home after dinner, the phone was ringing. The call was from a friend who informed me that Olivia had been murdered in her apartment that morning.
She didn’t show up to teach her class that morning and the school called her parents. Her dad went to her apartment and found Olivia had been brutally murdered.
Police theorized that someone snuck into her apartment while she was outside after breakfast walking her cat and she was attacked when she returned to her apartment. A neighbor heard screaming but didn’t think to call police or check to see where the screaming was coming from.
I will never forget that day. I was 21 years old and had never known anyone who had been a victim of a violent crime. Everyone who knew Olivia was completely devastated. The investigators provided very little information about the case and we were left to wonder who could have done this. As the days turned to weeks and then to months and then to years, everyone who knew Olivia lost hope the case would ever be solved.
About three years ago, an FBI agent began to look at cold cases in Virginia and decided to reopen Olivia’s case to take a new look at the details and the evidence. This FBI agent’s efforts led to an arrest of a suspect in December 2015 and a conviction earlier this year, which was almost 37 years after the murder.
Producers for the TV series “On the Case With Paula Zahn” heard about Olivia’s case and decided to dedicate an episode to her case. In July of this year, I was contacted by one of the producers and I was invited to New York to tape an interview with Paula Zahn to talk about Olivia and the impact her murder had on the people who knew her. Several other people, who were involved with solving the case were also interviewed for this episode.
The episode about Olivia’s case (Season 17, Episode 17) will air at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18 on Investigation Discovery, which is channel 192 on the Dish Network and channel 285 on DIRECTV. The episode will also be available on Amazon and on ITunes, and on the Investigation Discovery website.
Chris Naftel is a resident of Bear Valley Springs and he is the president of the Rotary Club of Tehachapi.