Detectives still on the case 37 years after Jerri Emken was killed at Murray’s Pub

By Christiana Lilly | New Pelican Writer

Pompano Beach ​​– After 37 years, the Broward Sheriff’s Office has not given up on solving the murder of Jerri Emken.

Police are still investigating the October 1985 murder of Jerri Emken. [BSO]

Found dead on the floor of Murray’s Pub in Pompano Beach on Oct. 7, 1985, her killer has not been brought to justice.

“Homicides, if they don’t get solved in a certain amount of time, they go cold and then unfortunately they go to a room and they can sit there for years,” says Broward Sheriff’s Office [BSO] Det. Dave Towsley. “There’s very few dedicated cold case units in the country; we’re one of the few that do it full time.”

Originally from Lynchburg, Virgina, Emken moved to Florida from Arizona at the behest of her sister and brother-in-law after going through a tough divorce. She met her husband Eugene D. Emken and they married a year-and-a-half before her murder. Just 41, she was at Murray’s Pub where she worked as a bookkeeper for her brother-in-law, Michael James. When he arrived at the bar around 10 a.m., he saw her car parked out front and was surprised that the front door was open — she always locked it behind her when the pub wasn’t open to the public. After calling out for her, he discovered her laying on the floor of the kitchen, dead. 

“She didn’t deserve this,” Nancy James, Emken’s sister, said in a video released by BSO. “She was a good person. Whoever did this should never have gotten away with it.”

Michael noted that nothing had been taken. A few days later, the Sun Sentinel reported that Emken died from asphyxiation. The cause of death, the unlocked door, and no robbery indicate to police that the crime was personal. The Pompano Beach Police Department handled the investigation, then handed it over to BSO when they joined the county law enforcement agency in 1999. 

Towsley, a seasoned detective, took over the case last summer – a fresh pair of eyes to look over the files and evidence. Back in 1985, he said, polygraphs were the gold standard of crime fighting. Today, it’s DNA. He reran all the DNA on file, but unfortunately nothing came back. Also, due to decades that have passed since Emken’s murder, any traces of touch DNA have deteriorated. 

The investigator is especially eager to get the word out in Pompano Beach because of the nature of the city – it’s not a transient community. In fact, many people who live here have called it home for decades and may have even frequented Murray’s Pub back in the day.

One person in particular he’s focused on is Emken’s husband, who died in 2016 in Pennsylvania. Police in the ‘80s had verified his alibi that he was at work about five blocks away and passed a polygraph. However, Towsley feels more time could have been spent on him.

Broward Sheriff’s Office Detective Dave Towsley. [BSO]

“As far as the investigation itself, they did a pretty good investigation on this back then in 1985. There’s always things that you like to look at a little bit more,” he says. “It appears that she may have known her killer; she may have let him into the bar.”

The detective is also focused on getting more information about two vehicles that were seen outside the bar around the time of the murder: a white van and a blue pick-up truck with a black roll bar and a white stripe around the front. The drivers may have been involved, or they could have seen something while using the payphone located near the bar.

“Almost every place has cameras and everybody has cell phones now. None of that existed in 1985, none of it,” Towsley says. “We have to rely on human sources. That’s why getting this out there and hopefully jogging somebody’s memories might get us some names.”

In the meantime, the detective continues to work on the case and speaks with Emken’s family every few weeks to keep them abreast of the status of the case.

Anyone with information pertaining to Emken’s homicide is asked to call Det. Towsley at 954-321-4210. To remain anonymous, contact Broward Crime Stoppers at 954-493-TIPS [8477], or dial **TIPS [8477]. Information that leads to an arrest in this case is eligible for a reward of up to $5,000. 

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