SHEFFIELD – Kimra Lynn Riley was 36 when she was reported missing on Jan. 30, 1996.
A Tuscumbia resident, she was last seen at Bama Club on Raleigh Avenue in Sheffield, two weeks prior to being reported missing.
“We were working the case as a missing-person case,” said Sheffield Police Chief Greg Ray, who was an investigator at the time.
That changed when a fisherman found Riley's partially clothed body floating in the Tennessee River near Keller Quarry on March 6, 1996.
According to reports, there were two large rocks tied to a pair of sweatpants in an attempt to keep the body submerged. The body, which was badly decomposed, had on a sweat shirt, but nothing below the waist.
“It was frustrating. We started late, and at first we didn’t get a lot of cooperation from people she had seen at the Bama Club,” said Curtis Burns, director of the Colbert County Drug Force, who was an investigator with Sheffield police at the time. “But some of the same people who didn’t help at first did later, after the body was located, which helped.”
Retired Sheffield Police Chief Doug Aycock said investigators did a good job with what they had to work with.
“There really wasn't a lot to go on, but they kept after it,” Aycock said of investigators Burns and Ray. “They did a lot of digging and a lot of work. Finally, things started falling into place, and they were able to pull everything together and make an arrest.”
The investigation led to the conviction of Rodney O’Neal Hocker, a Sheffield native who was working in construction out of Tuscaloosa.
Producers of the Discovery Channel’s "Swamp Murders" television show came to Sheffield in April to do some of the filming and interviews for the production. Ray flew to Atlanta to be interviewed.
“Apparently, this series is about murders involving bodies of water,” Ray said. “The producers search for these kind of cases. They found ours and contacted us.”
Ray said discussing the case brought back a lot of memories.
“It was a very cruel crime," he said. "She died from drowning. She was put in the river and drowned.”
He said he and Burns wanted to make sure the show “remembered the victim.”
“This was a tragedy, it took a mother away from her young son,” Ray said. “This is a way not to forget the victim and tell her story.”
He said the production company contacted Riley’s family and got the family's blessings before starting production.
Ray said Hocker had been a person of interest because he had met the Riley at Bama Club.
“We were able to get an arrest warrant on May 28, 1996, and he was convicted of murder and sentenced in November 1997 to 99 years in prison," Ray said.
Burns said DNA found from a drop of Riley’s blood inside Hocker’s truck was the key to the case.
“It was one of the first [cases] dealing with DNA we had ever had. DNA testing was relatively new, but it paid off and led to the arrest and conviction,” Burns said.