Longform

Cold Case

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 Kimberly Shawn Cheatham was last seen on April 12, 1989. She was supposed to go to a cousin's house to do her laundry. She never showed up. A short while later, her empty car was found outside Dallas, covered by brush. She was black, 21, 4'10". But most importantly, her gritty black-and-white photos posted on the Texas Department of Public Safety Web site looked strikingly like Princess Blue.

Using Photoshop, Websleuth member Alexandria Goddard overlaid the sketches of Princess Blue onto Cheatham's pictures. She was stunned at what she saw.

"I want to say that it is her, but I also don't want to set myself to be disappointed if it's not," Goddard says from her home in Ohio. She says she's been speaking with Cheatham's mother, who lives in California. Both were encouraged enough by the overlay that they contacted the Dallas detective handling the Cheatham case.

While the most recent forensic examination concluded Princess Blue was white, Goddard believes such determinations are not written in stone.

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 launchedwww.SomeoneKnowsMe.com, 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.

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.

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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow