Inside the Evidence: Mother seeks justice in Finger Lakes homicide

July 26, 2019 11:27 PM

OVID, N.Y. (WHEC) — A 34-year-old cold case still haunts a small town in the Finger Lakes. Kristin O'Connell, 20, of Minnesota, was found dead in a cornfield in 1985 in Ovid, Seneca County. Her throat was slashed. No arrests have ever been made.

"She was my daughter, and they're not going to kill my daughter and walk away," Phyllis O'Connell said. 

Phyllis lives in Burnsville, Minnesota and has made it her life's mission to find the person who killed her daughter. 

"Everybody liked Kristin," Phyllis said. "She was a good soul, good-hearted. We were extremely close as mother and daughter."

Kristin's smile still fills her mother's home. 

"She was beautiful, and she never knew it," Phyllis said while holding a picture of Kristin. "She always came to the door and said, 'Hi, Mom!' So that memory is always there with me." 

Back in August 1985, Kristin was 20-years-old. She was in Ovid visiting a young man she met while on spring break. It was the summer before Kristin's junior year at the University of Wisconsin-Stout where she was studying hotel and restaurant management. 

Her naked body was found in a cornfield along County Road 139. News10NBC went back to the scene of the crime with State Police Investigator George Grbic. 

"Kristin O'Connell was at a party at a trailer that's just approximately a third of a mile up the road here," Grbic said. "Behind the Golden Buck Restaurant, there's a trailer. She was staying there with friends."

She was reported missing after leaving that trailer. Investigators say she went for a walk alone around 11:30 p.m. on Aug. 14.  Phyllis says something was bothering her daughter.   

"She called me and said, 'I'm coming home,'" Phyllis recalled. 

But that would never happen. Kristin's father Michael O'Connell traveled to Ovid from Minnesota to help in the search. News10NBC was there when he found out his daughter had been killed. 

"She did enjoy life," Michael said back in 1985. "She enjoyed traveling. As a matter a fact, the way she picked her career was I said, 'Kris, you love hotels and resorts. Why don't you go into it?' And she did."

Michael, who has since passed away, said his daughter loved to meet new people. 

"She was very open with people," Michael told reporters. "She was very trusting of people, and I wouldn't want to change a bit."

"Sometimes I think maybe I should have really instilled in her a fear that not everybody was a good trusting person," Phyllis said.

Thirty-four years later, the O'Connell family and state police still don't know who killed Kristin. 

"This is still an active investigation," Grbic said. 

He says there are more than 2,000 leads in the case.

"We have numerous suspects that we're looking at," he said.

Grbic says the night Kristin disappeared, witnesses spotted her walking. They also saw two men walking behind her. Those men have never been identified. 

"I know there's a lot of people probably know who did this, but they won't come forward," Phyllis said. 

Grbic hopes evidence from the scene will break the case. 

"As advancements in forensic technology keep getting better and better, we keep retesting evidence that we have," Grbic said. 

Back in Minnesota, Phyllis holds on to her memories of Kristin and some of their last words together. 

"She said, 'You know, Mom, I really love you, and I love you so much,' she said. And I said, 'Well, I love you too.' That's the last time I heard that," Phyllis said. 

She's in regular contact with state police and also has private investigators working the case. 

"I'm not going anywhere," Phyllis said. "I will not rest. I will not give up." 

State police say the men seen following Kristin were described as white. One was about 6' to 6'2" with shoulder-length hair wearing blue jeans and possibly a jean jacket. The other man was shorter with brown hair and a thin build. 

If you have any information on who killed Kristin O'Connell call State Police at (585) 398-4300.

Click here to watch our first Inside the Evidence report on Kristin O'Connell. 

Click here to hear the anonymous call made to State Police days after the murder. 

WEB EXTRA: Click here to watch the story News10NBC aired the day Kristin was found dead. 


Nikki Rudd

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