Face To Face: How science and police work identified a serial killer

Face To Face: How science and police work identified a serial killer
(Courtesy: New Madrid County Sheriff's Office)

NEW MADRID COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - “Once we saw his picture and his past, criminal past and where he’d been. We knew he was the right guy.”

Missouri Highway Patrol Master Sargent Bud Cooper was talking about Robert Eugene Brashers.

After spending some 20 years searching for the man who killed Sherry and Megan Scherer inside their Portageville home, it took new science and old-fashioned police work to finally solve New Madrid County’s coldest case.

(Courtesy: Tony Scherer)
(Courtesy: Tony Scherer)

In this Heartland Solved update, I want to take you inside the effort that brought officers face to face with their killer, even from the grave.

“It was almost surreal, to be honest about it,” New Madrid County Sheriff Terry Stevens said. “I didn’t know if we’d ever get to that point.”

No longer just a sketch on a piece of paper, investigators working the Scherer case from day one finally see the real face of their killer, Robert Eugene Brashers. But, it took a break in another serial killer case to make it happen.

“It was pretty much after the Golden State serial killer had come to light,” New Madrid County Captain Chris Hensley said. “We knew then that the technology had finally caught up enough that it was a viable option.”

Joseph DeAngelo’s arrest in April 2018 came after experts ran DNA from the case through GEDMatch, an open genomics database and geneology website based in Florida.

It allows people to voluntarily upload their information to identify potential relatives.

“We were certainly willing,” Cooper said of the possible new lead. “I mean we have tried any and everything that came along. Any idea outside the box. We were going to run it down.”

And it didn’t take long to get a hit.

“And they got a match to a cousin, I believe it was,” Hensley recalled. “And, from there they build a family tree.”

Lead Genealogist C.C. Moore from Parabon NanoLabs in Virginia pieced together the family tree that led to Brashers.

Moore recently spoke to 60 Minutes about her work in unsolved criminal cases.

“I remember the moment when I finally get to all these people” Moore told reporter Steve Croft. “Because it’s a pretty profound moment to zero in on that. It’s certainly a heavy discovery.”

What was your reaction when you saw his face? I asked Sheriff Stevens.

"My first reaction was wow, he really looks a lot like the composites that we have,” he replied.

“My initial thoughts were I wanted to see how tall he was and how much he weighed,” Cooper said after seeing Brashers’ photo. Cooper had seen other men who looked like their sketches and he wanted to know more.

“Once they give you that information,” Cooper said of the genealogy link, “then you’ve got to go out and do the legwork to kind of prove it independently, if you will.”

So, Cooper and Hensley hit the road again, traveling to Ardmore, Alabama to meet with one of Robert Brashers' daughters. She and other family members willingly gave DNA samples.

“We were able to get those to Jefferson City,” Cooper explained. “And the lab obviously put those on the forefront. Ran the DNA stuff. And within a matter of days we knew that that was the right person.” But, Robert Brashers couldn’t be arrested or taken to trial. He’d killed himself in a Kennett motel room back in January 1999, less than a year after the Scherer murders.

“It was bittersweet,” Hensley recalled hearing that news.

But, these investigators would still come face to face with their suspect. “We wanted to know 100 percent that we knew the name and we knew where the suspect was, that he was deceased,” Sheriff Stevens said.

So on September 27, 2018 Hensley and Cooper watched as crews exhumed Brashers' body from his grave in Paragould, Arkansas.

A quick run of his DNA gave them their 100 percent. Cooper called Tony Scherer to share the news.

“I think he was relieved that we finally figured it out. Somewhat relieved that he knew he and his son would not have to go through the whole trial process. And appreciative that we had stayed on it.”

When the news became public in front of a packed courtroom October 5, 2018 we learned Robert Brashers would not be brought to justice.

But proving he killed Sherry and Megan still brought peace to those who worked so hard to make this day happen.

“Bringing the case to a close for the Scherer family and the Portageville community and these other families that have been victims of his, that’s good enough,” Sheriff Stevens said.

“It was a good one to solve,” Cooper added. “For everybody.”

Master Sargent Cooper said they aren’t completely done with the Scherer case.

They are now working with other law enforcement agencies that are taking a closer look at Brashers and whether he can be connected to any other unsolved cases.

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