August 26, 2011
The Daily Mississippian
"Cold case" could hinge on long-standing campus legend
By MORGAN HUNT, Staff Writer
Discovery of a walled-up room on campus that appeared to be an old crime scene has led local investigators to open a "cold case" – and to shed light on what may be the truth behind an old campus legend.
Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department officials have now confirmed that they have re-opened investigation of the 1987 death of Kevin Gilmore, who was an Ole Miss sophomore at the time, because of evidence uncovered in a room slated for demolition as part of renovations to the Physical Plant Shops and Stores building.
On July 14 of this year, construction crews halted work when items discovered in the room led workers to suspect the site had been the scene of a crime. Campus police notified the Yoknapatawpha Sheriff's Department, whose forensics team documented the findings.
As a result, investigators are now "actively pursuing leads" in the decades-old Gilmore case, according to Elizabeth Jones, public information officer for the sheriff's department.
Gilmore's body was originally found the morning of December 13, 1987, after he'd been missing for almost two days, according to Jones. She said it now appears that Gilmore died in the room in the physical plant building, and his body was subsequently dumped along Hathorn Road, where it was spotted by a maintenance worker.
Jones declined to comment on the exact timing of events surrounding Gilmore's death, or to detail investigators' current theories, beyond saying detectives have contacted the case's original witnesses to question them further.
But according to one of those witnesses, the location of Gilmore's body is now considered key to the case.
The stretch of Hathorn Road where the body was found is now home to soccer and softball fields – a seemingly innocuous location. But in 1987, the location was the site of the Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (RIPS) and its experimental garden, known informally as "the pot farm." Since then, RIPS has moved to indoor growing facilities that provide better security and tighter control over the plant strains being cultivated.
Because of the illicit drugs grown on the site and stored in the lab at the time, the building had been under guard and outfitted with heavy surveillance. During the original investigation, the Mississippian reported that investigators were studying camera footage from around the lab for clues.
Jason Finnegan was on the Ole Miss basketball team with Gilmore, and is now a restaurant maintenance worker in Oxford. He said investigators recently interviewed him again about Gilmore's death and asked a number of questions about illicit drug use and the pot farm.
"I told them no one touched the stuff – we'd get kicked off the team in a heartbeat," said Finnegan.
Finnegan said the detectives even asked about an infamous campus legend, involving a student being killed trying to steal marijuana from the farm. In one version of the tale, the student was caught trying to escape and his body turned up in a remote location days later. In another version, before death the student was imprisoned and tortured by government agents.
Other stories describe sightings of a ghost in the area of the former pot farm, and a monstrous man with a scythe who cuts down anyone who tries to enter.
To commemorate the legend, fraternity Delta Sigma Alpha holds a "Spring Haunted House" party every April 20 – a date affiliated with marijuana culture because the numbers 420 are often used in law enforcement codes for marijuana infractions. A fraternity member dressed as the Grim Reaper circulates among the crowd, and whoever he taps with his scythe must shed an article of clothing.
"That ghost has inspired some awesome parties," said Del Shaughnessy, Delta Sigma Alpha president. "If it's really true – wow. We'd have to find a way to celebrate."
Sheriff's public information officer Jones refused to comment on whether the current investigation focused on drug activities at the "pot farm."
Jones declined to speculate as to whether Gilmore is the figure behind the campus legend. When asked about rumors surrounding marijuana theft, she said only, "The lab is a project of the federal government and serves a serious purpose. It has always been adequately staffed to protect the valuable research work done there."