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Crime News Cold Justice

Cold Justice Seeks the Public's Help in Solving "Brutal" 1990 Rape, Murder of 80-Year-Old Woman

Kelly Siegler and the team visits Alcoa, Tennessee, to find out whether Emmaline Croft was raped and murdered at the hands of a stranger or by someone in her family.

By Jax Miller

Kelly Siegler and Cold Justice head to Tennessee to learn more about the brutal rape and murder of a beloved 80-year-old woman.

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The cold case prosecutor and Homicide Investigator Tonya Rider joined officials with the Alcoa Police Department (A.P.D.), including Detective Woody Hughes and Lieutenant Doug Sparks, to find out who killed Emmaline Croft in her home. Retired Sergeant Ron Schroeder of the Kissimmee Police Department in Florida also assisted in the investigation after moving to the area.

For the involved authorities, it didn’t make sense that anyone would inflict such violence on the sweet and vulnerable woman affectionately known as “Granny.”

“She just loved unconditionally and was always there for a pat on the back if you did well and some harsh advice if you weren’t doing as good as you shoulda been,” Croft’s grandson Tim Kimsey told Cold Justice, airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen. “She was always kind and amazing, and everybody loved Granny.”

But could the team help solve the 33-year-old case?

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A horrific attack on a vulnerable woman

On December 8, 1990, Croft was found on the sofa of her Alcoa, Tennessee, home, less than 20 miles south of Knoxville. It was an incredibly violent scene, puzzling authorities since Croft — who had five children and four grandsons — wasn’t known to have any enemies.

“The nightgown she was wearing was ripped, and there [were] two pieces of nightgown lying on the floor in front of the couch,” said Schroeder. “She had blunt force trauma to her head; she had been stabbed in the neck several times, and then she had puncture and scrape marks about her face and her torso area.”

A bent fork — possibly used to inflict puncture wounds to the body — was also found near the sofa, and a large kitchen knife was discovered in the hallway.

Making the crime even more grisly was that whoever killed Croft also vaginally and anally raped her. However, it was unclear if the victim was penetrated via sexual intercourse or with a foreign object.

Authorities noted no signs of forced entry and they had little physical evidence to work with.

“The strange thing is, this was such a violent crime, but yet there are no viable fingerprints,” said Siegler. “There was no semen left behind, and all the D.N.A. testing came up empty.”

The Suspects

The team of investigators looked into theories of a random attacker, possibly someone influenced by drugs, based on the brutality of the crime. They then shifted their attention to Croft’s neighbor, Thomas Norfleet, a person of interest who died two years before Cold Justice took on the case.

Detectives said unsubstantiated rumors swirled that Croft and Norfleet were romantically involved. At the time of the murder, Norfleet's wife was terminally ill, and he was her primary caregiver.

Norfleet’s wife died of natural causes not long after Croft’s homicide.

Next, the team looked at two of Croft’s grandsons, both of whom found themselves on investigators’ radar. First was Dennis Kimsey — no longer living — who frequently spent time with Croft and had a long history of substance abuse. Other crimes listed on his rap sheet included driving under the influence, vandalism, assault with an automobile, and aggravated burglary.

Emmaline Croft featured on Cold Justice Episode 705

One witness claimed they even saw Dennis Kimsey once raise a hand to Croft when Croft refused to hand over money for drugs.

Investigators also looked into a second grandson, Darren Ethridge (Dennis Kimsey’s cousin), who was only 16 at the time of Croft’s homicide and not previously considered a viable suspect. 

Ethridge was charged with five unrelated stalking incidents, among other things.

“In 2000, he’s arrested in Texas,” Siegler told the team. “He picks up a stripper, and then they decide to go off on their own to a park. And then things go bad.”

Ethridge, then-26, was accused of raping the exotic dancer before police caught him in the act. In response, the suspect allegedly attempted to “assault the officer with the car as he tried to flee,” according to Siegler.

Cold Justice takes a fresh look at the case

The team sat with many of Croft’s relatives, including Tim Kimsey, who credited his grandmother for his growing up to become a preacher.

“My brother was a criminal; he did a lot of bad things in his life,” Tim Kimsey told Cold Justice about his decesased brother and suspect, Dennis Kimsey. “There’s nothing he wouldn’t do.”

“No matter who it was, they have to be brought to justice,” Tim Kimsey continued.

Croft’s grandchildren Danny Kimsey, Davidta “Dee Dee” Blair and sisters Lori Dockter and Amanda Singleton had all wondered if Dennis Kimsey was involved in the violent death. But for most, the brutality and rape of the 80-year-old woman seemed beyond comprehension.

In fact, loved ones said that despite Dennis Kimsey’s drug use and his brushes with the law, he and Croft had a loving relationship.

“Walk in there, get mad, and accidentally kill her; hands down, I could totally see that,” Singleton said of Dennis Kimsey. “But to carry through with the sexual stuff, I find it very hard to believe.”

Others, including Blair, wondered if Croft was instead killed by one of Dennis Kimsey’s drug-related associates.

Bob Kimsey claimed that his deceased brother Dennis Kimsey was relentless in getting to the bottom of the truth of who killed Croft, suggesting that was not something the actual killer would've done.

When asked about the younger Darren Ethridge, loved ones didn’t seem to have considered him a suspect, especially given his age and small size at the time. They also claimed Croft was “strong as an ox” and didn’t believe someone as “small” as Darren could overtake the woman.

A closer look at the victim’s death

The team invited Forensic Pathologist Dr. Kathryn Pinneri to assist them in taking a closer look at Croft’s postmortem examination. Pinneri said it was a case of “overkill,” stating that Croft was beaten before the stab and puncture wounds were inflicted, based on the bruising to the face and head.

Carotid arteries on both sides of Croft’s neck had been cut, with one wound deep enough that it hit the victim’s vertebrae.

“This tells you how forceful these stab wounds were,” said Pinneri. “This is brutal.”

RELATED: DNA Aids Investigators in Examining 1982 Double Murder of Texas Mother, Young Daughter

Investigators visited Croft’s Alcoa home, where in 1990, police found the back leg of the couch was broken, likely during the attack. They believed the killer dropped the knife in the hallway before heading out the front door, where some blood had been found.

Dr. Pinneri said it was plausible that the sexual assault took place after death.

Police revealed that the victim’s bra was found near the body. However, her underwear was never recovered, leading investigators to wonder if the suspect took the panties “to keep as a trophy,” according to Siegler. It wasn’t believed the undergarments were taken as a means of hiding evidence since the fork and knife had been left behind.

Cold Justice visits several key witnesses

Investigator Rider and Lt. Sparks paid a visit to Janice Mooney, who married Croft’s neighbor, Thomas Norfleet, about two years after the murder, and despite Norfleet allegedly slapping her once during their marriage, she didn’t think Norfleet was capable of killing his neighbor.

“I think he respected Miss Croft, and I really don’t think he would have hurt her,” said Mooney.

Mooney echoed what Bob Kimsey previously said about his brother: that Dennis Kimsey took an active role in the investigation into Croft’s murder. According to Mooney, Norfleet said Dennis Kimsey visited him and made Norfleet raise his shirt to prove he had no injuries consistent with a vicious struggle with Croft.

Meanwhile, Siegler and Det. Hughes interviewed the woman who’d accused Darren Ethridge of stalking. The woman claimed she met Ethridge while working at a hotel and regularly rebuffed his advances every time he asked her out on a date.

Some of his disturbing statements included that he “wanted to f-ck” the woman and “wanted it rough.” Ethridge later egged her vehicle and screamed about how much he loved her, claiming that if he couldn’t have her, nobody could, according to the victim.

“He followed me home; broke in,” the woman said. “This went on. He stole my nighties, my underwear. He said my nightgown smelled awesome. He had it on his pillow.”

For investigators, it was a red flag that Ethridge stole the woman’s panties since Croft’s underwear was missing from the crime scene.

An Interview with Darren Ethridge

Emmaline "Granny" Croft Taught Others Kindness and Love

The team headed to Denton, Texas — about 40 miles north of Fort Worth and Dallas — to meet Ethridge face-to-face. The suspect, who was on parole for a D.U.I., met investigators during a “surprise interview."

Ethridge claimed he was at home when he heard Croft had been killed and he went to Croft’s Alcoa residence, where police were already on site. He told Siegler and Det. Hughes that it made sense that people considered cousin Dennis Kimsey as a suspect since he was “the black sheep of the family.”

“You know, I’ve been in legal trouble, he’s been in legal trouble,” said Ethridge. “You know, the first person you would suspect is somebody that’s been in trouble with the law.”

Ethridge said he relocated from Tennessee to Texas after he was accused of stalking the unnamed woman who he claimed was an ex-girlfriend, something she vehemently denied. He added he “wanted to get away from it” and “start fresh.”

As far as the incident in Texas where police allegedly found him in the act of rape, Ethridge claimed he and the exotic dancer were drunk and that sex was consensual. He said police came upon the vehicle because they were parked hours after the park closed.

“I didn’t do any of that stuff,” Ethridge maintained. “But, I mean, if you feel like you need to investigate me, that’s fine. I mean, if you’re gonna solve it, you’re barking up the wrong tree.”

“There’s no nice way to put it”

The team gathered back in Tennessee to review all their evidence and the suspects before them. With nothing tying Thomas Norfleet to the crime, they ultimately ruled him out as a suspect in Emmaline Croft’s murder.

It also didn’t seem, based on multiple family statements, that Dennis Kimsey was capable of committing such a violent act against the grandmother he dearly loved. It also didn’t seem likely to investigators that Dennis Kimsey would have been so active in the investigation if he had committed the crimes.

Although authorities felt confident that they could eliminate Dennis Kimsey as a suspect, they were still unsure about the possibility of Darren Ethridge being involved with his grandmother’s murder at just 16 years old.

Siegler said they “weren’t even close” to having enough evidence to file charges. It was still possible that Croft’s death was a random attack, or a crime committed by one of Dennis Kimsey’s drug-related associates.

“There’s no nice way to put it. We did not get there,” Siegler said of the case. “We didn’t solve the case, we did not get the answers we wanted, we did not get justice for Emmaline or her family.”

Authorities vowed not to give up on the investigation.

Tim Kimsey felt “relief” when he learned his brother Dennis Kimsey had been cleared as a suspect and hoped the news could repair his legacy.

Cold Justice is now hoping the public can help them solve who killed Emmaline Croft. Anyone with information is urged to contact the Alcoa Police Department at 1-865-981-4111.

Watch all-new episodes of Cold Justice, airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.