Nearly six decades after a robber with a shotgun made her a 22-year-old widow, Charlene Dozier still marvels at the kindness and generosity of Columbus residents.
The slaying of her husband, Donald Keyes, on March 8, 1955, generated front-page headlines and a public outcry. Donations poured in, allowing the widow to purchase the E. 13th Avenue house where the couple had been raising their two young children. Mayor M.E. Sensenbrenner, who encouraged city workers to contribute, attended the funeral.
But the trail leading to the killer quickly went cold. The homicide remains unsolved, the oldest of the cold cases on file with Columbus police. Dozier, now 81, said she lost hope that the killer would be found about 10 years after the killing.
“I can’t say I grieve anymore,” she said. “I think the Lord has taken that from me.”
Donald Keyes was a 24-year-old student at Ohio State University, studying to become a teacher, and was working the night shift at the Checker Oil gas station at E. 5th and Leonard avenues, northwest of Bexley. Police think he was killed between 1:30 and 1:40 a.m. by a robber who shot him once in the side of the face after forcing him to lie on the floor of a cramped storage room with his head on a pillow.
The killer pried open a desk drawer and took an estimated $50.
In addition to his wife, Keyes left behind a 4 1/2-year-old daughter, Karen, and an 11-month-old son, Tommy.
As the year drew to a close, the Ohio State Journal reported that the murder “topped all area crime stories for 1955. No other story hit the community with such immediate impact and held its continued interest for so long a time.”
Day after day, newspaper stories detailed every new lead in the case and every suspect who was arrested, given a lie-detector test and released.
The victim’s older brother, Paul Keyes, said Lt. Herman Beck and other detectives worked tirelessly, “day and night,” on the case.
“Beck told me that he knew who did it, but he couldn’t prove it,” the 84-year-old Downtown resident said.
Dozier credits her faith and the family’s church, Shepard Church of the Nazarene, with helping her and her children through those traumatic months.
“If not for that church, I don’t know where we’d be today,” she said.
The pastor at the time, the Rev. E.K. Richey, delivered the news of her husband’s death, knocking on her bedroom window at 5 a.m.
The couple’s daughter, now 63, also awoke to the knocking. Karen Moss remembers the commotion in the living room, the pastor and a police officer holding on to her weeping mother. And she remembers trips with her extended family to Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens every Sunday after church for at least a year following her father’s burial there.
“Tom and I were very loved and cared for by our family and our church,” she said. “We never felt like we lacked anything. “Our Christian faith, our supportive relatives and friends made us realize that life didn’t just stop because you lost your dad. We had faith that we’d see him again.”
When Dozier built a new house in 1960 and sold the house on E. 13th Avenue, she used the proceeds to start a college fund for her children.
Moss graduated from Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tenn. She taught for 35 years with Amanda Clearcreek Local Schools in Fairfield County before retiring in 2007. She now serves as administrator of Shepherd Church of the Nazarene’s elementary school.
Her brother graduated from Ohio State University and is an executive with AAA Ohio Auto Club. Both live on the East Side near their mother, who has four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Dozier eventually remarried; she was widowed again in 2009. She became a registered nurse and retired after 32 years at OhioHealth Grant Medical Center. She volunteers as the parish nurse for the church.
In 2007, she contacted the cold-case squad to ask about having the Donald Keyes case reopened. A detective found that half of the witnesses, suspects and officers from the original investigation had died, said Sgt. Eric Pilya, supervisor of the unit.
A Columbus TV station broadcast a report about the slaying, but a plea for new information didn’t generate a single call to Crime Stoppers, he said.
Dozier has made peace with the realization that she likely will never learn who robbed her of her husband after fewer than six years of marriage.
“There’s nothing like your first love,” she said. “The fact that he was the father of my children, it brings different emotions. I think of all the joy those children have brought to my life.
“I’m just thankful I had him in my life for as long as I did.”
Anyone with information about the case can contact the cold-case unit at 614-645-4036 or Crime Stoppers at 614-461-8477.
By John Futty - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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