Cold Case

Woman found dead 17 years ago in Manvel remains unidentified

She says, "With those, you can't always rely on the information that's listed. Like with Kimberly Cheatham...she's African-American, whereas, you know, Princess's race has changed so many times just over the past six months."

Goddard has long held a general interest in true-crime. She was already a Websleuths member when authorities released the news about Princess Blue's ring. With such a powerful clue, it seemed like Princess Blue stood a better chance of being identified than the thousands of other unidentified remains stored in evidence rooms throughout the country. That's one of the reasons Goddard, a site devoted to finding the identity not only of Princess Blue but of other unidentified and missing ­persons.

"Somewhere, somebody has to know something about this ring," she says.

Investigators Coffman (l) and Rosser have not had any promising leads.
Investigators Coffman (l) and Rosser have not had any promising leads.

The sleuthing sites generate a lot of cross-traffic, because the sleuthing community believes in sharing information, something that is not always practiced among law enforcement agencies.

The only mention of Princess Blue's surgically removed upper left tooth is buried in the 1990 medical examiner's report; it was never released to the public as an investigative aid. If it had been, someone — sleuth or cop — might have taken a closer look at Babette Alberti.

Alberti was last seen in October 1983, in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, which comprises a large part of suburban New Orleans. Based on the information on the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office Web site, Alberti seems an unlikely candidate for Princess Blue. The height is on, but the age, 31, is off. Alberti's photograph vaguely resembles the Princess Blue sketches, but certainly not more than Cheatham.

It's on the Web sites of the Doe Network and the Charley Project — privately established sites run by volunteers — that Alberti comes more into focus. A second photograph on those sites shows Alberti smiling, revealing what appears to be a gap in her upper teeth where a tooth might have been. Those sites also reveal that Alberti fractured her ribs as a child. Princess Blue's upper two ribs were fractured; the autopsy never established if that occurred post- or antemortem. The sites also state, "She may have been involved in drugs and prostitution."

Of course, the chances of Alberti being a match for Princess Blue would rise and fall dramatically on whether she was actually missing a tooth, and, if so, which one. But a call to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office proved a dead end.

"I cannot give any information out," said Captain Hilda Montecino of the JPSO. She said she would contact the Manvel Police Department, and any information would have to come from them. All she could disclose was that Alberti was last seen in St. Bernard Parish in September 1983, placing her last known whereabouts in a different parish and a different month than what's listed on the JPSO Web site.

Montecino offered to put the Houston Press in touch with the JPSO's public information officer, although he wouldn't be able to say anything, either. When the Press asked for the PIO's name and number, Montecino said he would be the one calling. That's because, when it comes to the name and number of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office's public information officer, "We just don't give that out to the public."

When Coffman and Rosser reopened the Princess Blue case, they knew they had to talk to Tommie Tolson, the original ­investigator.

By that time, the former Manvel police chief had moved to Hallettsville, where he works as a truck driver. Coffman and Rosser wanted to see if he might be able to tell them anything that had been left out of the original report. It was only a few paragraphs long and was never supplemented. If Tolson ever sketched or photographed the crime scene, that evidence has long disappeared. He did not appear to have interviewed anyone other than the motorist who found the remains.

Tolson didn't have much to tell them. Besides, he had another life now, and he had more important things to deal with than a bunch of bones dumped on a dead-end road nearly two decades earlier.

"He said he's not interested in saying nothing," his wife, Susan, told the Press. And even if he wanted to talk, what could he say about an unidentified body?

"Nothing came of it," Susan Tolson says of the original investigation. She laughs when she says it, just like she laughs when she adds, "They did what they could."

The bottom line: Tommie Tolson cannot be bothered with this stuff. He's out in his rig, trying to keep a schedule.

"He has to keep his mind on the road," she says.

So the reason he sat on the single most important clue in the case remains a ­mystery.

"I can't think of a reasonable explanation why the high school ring would not be put out there [to the public]," says Vernon Geberth, a consultant in homicide and forensic case investigations for authorities in the U.S. and Canada. Geberth was a member of the New York Police Department from 1965 to 1987, retiring as the commanding officer for the Bronx Homicide Task Force.

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