January 05, 2015

Memorial scholarship honors murder victims

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The police lieutenant who led the investigation that solved a cold case murder is using the proceeds from a book he has written about it to fund a scholarship for Southern Illinois University Carbondale students.           

Paul Echols, formerly of the Carbondale Police Department and now a lecturer in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at SIU, is the author of “In Cold Pursuit: My Hunt for Timothy Krajcir, the Notorious Serial Killer,” a firsthand account of the investigation that solved the serial murders of nine women from four states, including the Southern Illinois and Cape Girardeau regions. Echols said he wrote the book with creating a memorial scholarship in mind. 

The SIU Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice will award the first Nine Angels Scholarship this spring to a junior who shows promise in the field of criminology and criminal justice. The initial award is $500. The winner also receives a copy of Echols’ book. 

“I hope to build an endowment of at least $25,000 to make this scholarship perpetual,” Echols said, noting that in addition to the proceeds from his book sales, other donors, including police officers and fellow SIU alumni, have and continue to contribute to the scholarship fund. “I chose to make the scholarship specific to SIU because Deborah Sheppard, from Olympia Fields, was a senior at SIU and Joyce Tharp (another of Krajcir’s victims, from Paducah, Ky.) was an SIU alumna. I also teach part-time at SIU.” 

Echols retired in 2009 and became the full-time criminal justice instructor at Shawnee Community College. The scholarship will allow an advantage for SCC students transferring to SIU.   

Echols was a rookie police officer on patrol in 1982 when SIU senior Deborah Sheppard was killed. Her sexual assault and murder went unsolved for 25 years. Echols was familiar with applying new DNA technology to old evidence from his work in solving another cold case, the 1981 rape and murder of SIU senior Susan Schumake, which resulted in a guilty verdict in 2006. In the Sheppard case, he enlisted the help of Illinois State Police forensic scientists to examine previously tested evidence, and came up with Krajcir, who was already in prison. When Krajcir seemed to be hiding things from his past, Echols looked closer and learned some of Krajcir’s secrets. Using that information, he joined efforts with Cape Girardeau Police Cold Case Detective Jimmy Smith. They linked Krajcir to five murders in the Cape Girardeau area. Ultimately, in order to avoid the death penalty in Missouri, Krajcir confessed to numerous sexual assaults and nine murders committed between 1977 and 1982. 

Everything about the investigation, from the police work, inter-departmental cooperation and forensic science, to the personal stories of the victims and their families is a true-crime drama, a story that needed to be told. Echols invited Christine Byers, a reporter for the St. Louis Post- Dispatch who covered the investigation as it unfolded, to help write “In Cold Pursuit.” Byers is donating her portion of the proceeds to the scholarship as well. 

“It’s great to see something good, which will help teach future police officers and investigators, evolve from events that were so bad,” Echols said. 

Donate to the Nine Angels Scholarship through the SIU Foundation, Nine Angels Scholarship, Southern Illinois University Foundation, 1235 Douglas Drive, Mail Code 6805, Carbondale Ill., 62901-4308, or call 618/453-2341.