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The Case of Isabel Cordle

Air Date: Oct. 15, 2013

Cold Justice Insider Blog: Episode 7 "Hatchet"

October 15, 2013

By Murray Newman

Since 1999, Murray Newman has practiced criminal law, handling cases from DWI to Capital Murder and everything in between. He serves as a consultant for Cold Justice. Follow him on Twitter and visit his blog.

Almost everything about the investigation into the 1988 murder of Isabel Cordle was strange. It was strange that a hatchet was the murder weapon. It was strange that the 49-year-old mother was killed in her own home as the rest of her family slept. It was strange that there were so many potential suspects in the murder of a woman whose greatest vice was playing bingo.

There was very little about this particular case that made any sense to any of the investigators. Each suspect was as likely to be the killer as any of the others. Although John Onest had absolutely no motive to harm Isabel, his bizarre rantings earned suspicion. Although he was in jail at the time of the murder, Mark Carter's past history with the Cordle family gave him a strong motive for being involved. The tension that existed between Isabel and her husband Richard did not seem to be particularly unusual, but his behavior, coupled with the crime scene analysis, made him highly suspect.

Because the case was twenty-five years old, there was not much hope of getting any type of new hit on the DNA. Since Richard Cordle, Sr. and his son, Richard, Jr. (who was also a potential suspect) lived in the house with Isabel, their DNA would have been expected to be found inside the crime scene. Unless a DNA profile had been taken from the hatchet itself, anything belonging to the two Richards would be easily explained.

The crime scene still played a very critical role in the investigation, as the team ultimately decided that given the layout of the house and the lack of evidence of outside entry, it was highly unlikely that the killer came into the house from outside. This focused the investigation on either Isabel's husband or her son.

The interview of Richard Cordle, Jr. was nothing short of heartbreaking. The abuse that he experienced as a child, immediately followed by the murder of his mother, was more than any kid should ever have to endure. His problems carried on into his adulthood and I think the overwhelming feeling we had towards him after the interview was pity.

Richard Cordle, Sr. was a different story. There was nothing about him or his personality that screamed out, "Killer!" yet the logical trail kept leading back to him. He was an unfaithful husband by his own admission and a problem alcoholic by all other accounts, but there was not any indication of a burning hatred that could have led to murder.

This was a horrifying murder committed with a brutal weapon, but there was no indication that Isabel Cordle had ever woken after the first strike of the hatchet. The killer had attacked a sleeping victim and then calmly set the weapon outside by a tree. Although gruesome, the signs of a "heat of passion" crime were lacking here. If Richard Cordle, Sr. was the killer, he had to have acted in a very cold-blooded manner - one that would be uncharacteristic of most domestic violence-type murders.

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