Three months after Arlie Ray Davis died in prison, Peoria, Ill., police still have not opened a safe-deposit box that could unlock the killer's secrets.
Peoria police believe Davis was a serial killer who liked to collect trophies, such as jewelry, from the bodies of his victims.
The 46-year-old died of a heart attack in October while awaiting execution at the Pontiac (Ill.) Correctional Center. He was convicted of the 1995 rape and murder of Laurie Gwinn of Kewanee, Ill.
Three months after Davis died, Illinois Gov. George Ryan granted clemency to all of the inmates on death row, reducing capital-punishment sentences to life in prison. Still, Peoria police have said they are "100 percent sure" it was Davis who murdered as many as eight women, many of them prostitutes who disappeared after last being seen with him.
Shortly after Davis' death, police received a tip some believe could lead to the killer's trophies and to some resolution for the families of the eight women who either vanished or were found dead.
Within a week of Davis' death, Peoria police were given information about a safe-deposit box belonging to Davis and containing women's jewelry. That information included a two-page inventory, in Davis' handwriting, listing the contents of the bank box.
Any women's jewelry that Davis may have hidden away could be important to police because investigators have spent years searching for his trophy collection.
"He took jewelry off my daughter," Gwinn's father, Cliff Furnald, said Monday. "If there's jewelry in that box, it probably does belong to those other women."
Just days after Davis died, the man who had spent the most time investigating him in connection with the Peoria murders lamented the fact that the killer's keepsakes never had turned up.
"As for the trophies, we never found anything," Peoria police investigator Terry Pyatt said. "We took his car apart bolt by bolt and never found anything."
During the same interview with the Quad-City Times, Pyatt insisted Peoria police would be eager to continue investigating Davis if any new information about the department's unsolved murder cases were to surface.
Still, police said they have not opened the safe-deposit box.
"Whether the attorneys have done anything, we don't know," police department spokeswoman Ann Ruggles said.
Lawyers still might be involved in the case, police have said, because Davis' name was not the only one on the safe-deposit box. For investigators to get the authority to open it, they would need to speak with Davis' elderly uncle, Ramon Streitmatter.
In November, Ruggles said she could not say whether Streitmatter had been located, citing an ongoing police investigation. Whatever investigation was in effect at that time did not include Pyatt.
Despite his enthusiasm for cracking the cases against Davis, the officer was reassigned to liquor investigations and removed from the Davis probe.
"From our perspective, this is in no way over," Pyatt said last fall, three days after Davis' death. "To the day I die, it will be my hope that the bodies will be found or someone who was afraid of Arlie Ray will come forward now that he's gone.
"If a lead came in tomorrow or this afternoon, an officer would be immediately assigned to the case."
One element of the case that could have diminished other investigators' interest in the safe-deposit box is that Pyatt and others already had looked at some of the items Davis identified in his inventory list. During the Davis investigations, a collection of jewelry was confiscated and eventually returned after police concluded it probably was not the missing trophies.
But the source who gave the list to police said it contains descriptions of women's jewelry that police have not seen, and the box could contain property not listed on Davis' inventory sheet.
For instance, police never found the pictures they believe Davis took of the eight Peoria-area women and, possibly, of Laurie Gwinn.
During the Henry County trial in 1996, Pyatt testified that Davis' former girlfriend told police she found two Polaroid snapshots of nude women's bodies with orange extension cords around their necks among Davis' belongings.
Davis' mother testified that a Polaroid camera and orange electrical cords had disappeared from her home. And two Peoria prostitutes testified that Davis attempted to strangle them with orange cords after driving them to a remote area and taking their pictures.
The scenarios are too familiar to Gwinn's father. The 74-year-old said that if his daughter's killer had not been found, her death would have been all the more unbearable. Furnald said he hopes police are able to access the safe-deposit box and, perhaps, link property inside to other murders committed by Davis.
"You'd think they would at least contact the other families and have them see if they can identify the loot," he said. "If Davis hadn't been convicted in Laurie's murder, we'd still be up the wall."
Barb Ickes can be contacted at (563) 383-2316 or email@example.com.