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Modern DNA technology leads to arrest in 1980 Florida homicide of B.C. woman

Man indicted for rape and murder 43 years after Tzeachten member was killed in Miramar, FL
Detective Jonathan Zeller at the Miramar, Florida, Police Headquarters on Dec. 1, 2022 at a press conference to announce the grand jury indictment on counts of rape and first degree murder for the man who allegedly killed Evelyn Fisher of Chilliwack in January 1980. (Photo Tania Rues/Miramar Police Department)

In the late 1970s, Evelyn Fisher was married and living in Florida, 4,400 kilometres from her home community of Chilliwack.

In January 1980, the man accused of killing the 32-year-old, lived just 12 doors away.

Then 32 himself, Ronald Eugene Richards was out on parole for manslaughter of his former girlfriend in 1975 in Ohio. He was also arrested three months after the Miramar incident for a rape and attempted murder in another community in Florida.

Now 75, Richards is currently serving a 50-year sentence in an Ohio prison and has been in jail for almost all of the nearly 43 years since he allegedly murdered Fisher.

After an indictment by a grand jury in Miramar, Florida, on Nov. 30, Richards is now charged with one count of first degree murder and one count of sexual battery for the violent incident in a mobile home park in the Sunshine State on Jan. 22, 1980.

Photo of Evelyn Fisher of Chilliwack from the Riverview School of Psychiatric Nursing. The 32-year-old Fisher was murdered in Florida on Jan. 22, 1980. (Submitted by Miramar Police Department)

Case was a ‘whodunnit’ from the start

On that night in 1980, Fisher’s good friend, who was staying with her and her husband John Bamforth, was out. She came home, but had forgotten her key so knocked on the door of the couple’s home.

There was no response, and after repeated attempts, she eventually called 911, according to Miramar Police Department detective Jonathan Zeller.

Police attended and finally were able to enter the mobile home after midnight into Jan. 23. They found Fisher dead in her bedroom.

Bamforth was also out that night.

“Right from the onset of this whole investigation it was a whodunnit case,” Zeller told The Progress Dec. 1 in a telephone interview from Florida.

DNA technology in 1980 was nothing like it is in 2022. But by April of 1980, Richards was the main suspect. Another police department in another area of Florida came to Miramar and asked for local assistance to arrest a man for rape and attempted murder.

The MO (method of operation) in the other case was “extremely similar” to the Miramar case, Zeller said.

And the person of interest in the other case was Richards. There he was, 12 doors down from the Miramar Police Department’s murder victim, Evelyn Fisher.

Clearly he was top of the list for suspects, but they couldn’t prove he was their man.

So the case went cold.

A humbly heroic cop

While the case was shelved in 1980, the assailant’s DNA was on file, and Richards was a suspect. Over the years, homicide detectives would occasionally go back to it to see if there was anything more they could find.

“This is the oldest solved cold case in Miramar’s history,” public information officer Tania Rues said.

“Throughout the years it was looked at time and again.”

While he would have been a school kid at the time of the homicide itself, decades later, Zeller would also come back to the case from time to time.

“The DNA technology wasn’t what it is today,” Rues said. “Luckily because of that, and Detective Zeller’s hard work, he doesn’t like to say it, but he has a heavy case load. He decided on his own to revisit the case.”

So what is it like to solve a 43-year-old murder?

“It’s a very good feeling,” Zeller said. “It’s also a good feeling for everybody that was involved in this case. For the family, in particular for Evelyn’s husband.”

In homicides of women, it’s common to aim suspicion at the boyfriend or husband, because that is usually the culprit. Zeller said that even some of Fisher’s family assumed Bamforth did it.

“But (Bamforth) told us he wanted justice,” Zeller said. “He went back with the body, to Chilliwack. From my understanding … his life went in a downward spiral. He started drinking, went back to England. His life was never the same after that.”

Rues reiterated that Bamforth has been fully co-operative since 1980.

Evelyn in Chilliwack

Evelyn Marie Fisher was born March 23, 1947 to Charles and Ethel Fisher. She had a brother, Leonard, and Lorraine. Leonard died in 2012.

Fisher lived most of her life in Sardis, according to her obituary in the Feb. 6, 1980 edition of The Progress. She was a graduate of Chilliwack Secondary School and the Riverview School of Psychiatric Nursing. She worked as a psychiatric nurse in the Florida area at the time of her death.

There are very few mentions of her in The Progress over 25 years or so in Chilliwack, and as of a year ago when this possible arrest came to light, family members did not want to speak to the media about Fisher and the case. The Progress has reached out again to see if they will speak now that a charge has been laid, but there has been no response.

After her murder, Fisher was brought back to Chilliwack. Her funeral service was held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, her burial at Tzeachten Reserve Cemetery.

Richards’ case is now before the Broward County court system, but officials need to wait until he is released and available to be extradited from Ohio.

At 75 now, he will never get out of jail for the crimes he has been convicted of, but if he ever faces justice for the murder of Evelyn Fisher is still unclear.

“We accomplished a very important thing getting this indictment,” Zeller said. “This is the first hurdle, and the next step is a trial, or no trial, because maybe he dies in prison. I don’t worry myself with that.”

RELATED: DNA privacy questioned in B.C. cold case arrest

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