Chris Bieri, Forum Communications Co., Published May 11 2012
25 years later, cold case still unsolved
It was shocking, then, when the 19-year-old Fisher, Minn., native was found brutally stabbed to death in her basement apartment in downtown Grand Forks during the early morning hours of May 11, 1987.
With each passing year, that shock vanishes into mystery as Korynta’s killer has remained at large.
Korynta, known as Annie to her friends, was found dead at the foot of her bed by her roommate and niece Kari Korynta shortly after midnight.
Kari Korynta, now Kari Simmers, was 18 and just graduating from high school when the murder happened on Mother’s Day.
“It’s unfathomable,” Simmers said. “I can’t even comprehend someone doing something that violent. Annie was lovable, kind, caring. She’s just the sweetest person you’d ever meet.”
Police immediately started building a case but had little to work with.
There were no signs of a struggle, no forced entry into the apartment and no witnesses.
No murder weapon was ever found and Korynta, a secretarial student at East Grand Forks (Minn.) Area Vocational Technical Institute, was not sexually assaulted.
She arrived home just before 6:30 p.m. from a long day working at the Hugo’s in East Grand Forks, where she was a checker. She had reportedly told co-workers she was tired but stopped at the Red Pepper to visit a friend before arriving home.
It was Mother’s Day, but Korynta decided to work to make extra money and
didn’t join her family at Maple Lake.
Scene of the crime
Police believe Korynta knew her assailant, since she was dressed in her nightgown when she purportedly let the killer in the apartment, at 303 3rd St. S.
The Grand Forks Herald reported that Korynta had been stabbed in the torso area and had defensive wounds on her hands, but Simmers said she was also stabbed in the back.
“Blood was splattered everywhere,” Simmers said. “It’s just amazing that they didn’t find more evidence.”
According to a Herald report, detectives believed the murder weapon was a long-bladed knife.
While it’s believed Korynta opened the door for the murderer, Simmers said it was locked when she arrived.
The two young women had night lights plugged into the outlets so they’d never come home to a dark apartment. When Simmers arrived home that night, she said they were pulled out throughout the apartment.
The time of death has been narrowed to about 7:30 p.m. on May 10, which would still leave light in the day if the murderer tried to leave immediately after the act.
The investigation began with interviews of dozens of Korynta’s friends, family members and neighbors.
Days after the murder, Police Sgt. Dan Hill, who later became Grand Forks County sheriff, one of the lead investigators on the case, was encouraged.
“We’re going to find him. It’s only a matter of time,” he said, according to a Herald report.
Police gathered evidence and developed persons of interest but never had enough to make an arrest.
“I think there was one real person of interest and there were others that came up, but they either had an alibi or it wasn’t possible for them to do it,” said former Grand Forks Police Lt. Dennis Eggebraaten, who took over the cold case in the late 1990s.
In 1990, The Associated Press reported that Grand Forks police believed their chief suspect was being protected by his friends.
Eggebraaten said an attempt to re-interview people of interest in the late ’90s was unsuccessful because they refused to talk after retaining lawyers.
Police said there are still people of interest in the case.
In the first few years after Korynta’s murder, the FBI Behavioral Sciences lab in Quantico, Va., developed a profile of the assailant.
According to Herald reports, police said the profile indicated a man in his 20s, with a yo-yo personality – friendly and moody.
The man may have gone through a divorce or may be drinking or using drugs heavily, according to the profile.
According to a Herald report, one of the men police focused on was divorced after the crime and was arrested for drug possession in the year following Korynta’s death.
Eggebraaten said the profile matched others identified as persons of interest.
“I think the FBI profile was pretty close,” Eggebraaten said. “Obviously, there was no forced entry. She was familiar with the person. Something happened not near the door. It moved to a different room. If it was the intention to kill her, it would have happened right away. I think it’s just something that went wrong.”
Family members said Korynta, who was 5-foot-4 with brown hair and blue eyes, was still grieving the loss of her boyfriend, Peter Jason Steinhofer.
Steinhofer, also a student at the AVTI (now Northland Community and Technical College), died in a car accident on April 2, 1987. He and a friend were speeding down North Washington Street when their vehicle went out of control and hit a utility pole at Eighth Avenue, slicing the car in half.
Simmers said Steinhofer had asked Korynta to marry him the night of the accident.
In one Herald report, Lt. Floyd Bye, a lead investigator along with Hill, purposed the killer was trying to comfort Korynta but had other intentions, as well.
“He had interests – social – in Annie. He wanted to be a more intimate friend. Annie was still grieving the loss of her boyfriend. This person was rejected by Annie,” Bye told the Herald.
Bye, who declined an interview for this story, said in a previous Herald report that he had become obsessed with bringing the killer to justice.
Working a cold case
The case now has landed on the desk of Det. Steve Conley. He said it’s the only homicide case he’s ever worked on and the oldest case he’s been assigned by around 20 years.
“I don’t know how you go through it and not be affected by the fact justice hasn’t been served,” Conley said. “You always invest yourself into something like this.”
He said there haven’t been any significant breaks recently.
“I think every investigator that has taken a look at it has come up with the same ideas the past investigators have,” Eggebraaten said.
Lt. Jim Remer, who heads criminal investigations for the Grand Forks police, said finding time to work cold cases with a mass of fresh cases can be difficult.
“There are new cases and new victims we have all the time that deserve our attention,” he said. “It’s something we deal with every day.”
Eggebraaten said the case might be able to be advanced to a special task force, similar to one formed by the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation in 2005.
The two-agent cold case squad re-investigates evidence and examines new leads with the help of local law-enforcement agencies and retired officers. The squad has 15 cases under investigation.
Cases are sent to the squad by the request of local law enforcement. So far, the Korynta case has not been forwarded.
Looking for a break
The biggest chance for a break in the case may have to do with advanced DNA evidence.
“It’s hard to speculate,” Remer said. “It could be something like that, new biological evidence.”
In May 2000, police told the Herald that clothing, hair and other things at the scene of the crime had been sent to the FBI laboratory for testing.
Another possibility would be a new witness, sparking life into the case with fresh information or leads.
“Sometimes, it does come down new information,” Remer said. “Maybe someone is at a time in their life where they want to tell us something or they were involved. Maybe someone wants to bring justice to the case and closure to the family”
Anyone with any information about the Korynta case can call the Grand Forks Police Department at (701) 787-8000. Anyone wishing to remain anonymous can call Crime Stoppers at (701) 746-1000.
Chris Bieri writes for the Grand Forks Herald
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