Eddie Herman, then a detective with 13 years of experience on the Cobb County police force, recently reflected on the case.
“It was as bad a crime scene as I had ever been exposed to. It was bloody,” said Herman, now a Douglas County investigator.
He said he and fellow homicide detectives were galvanized by the slayings at the Lake Crossing apartment complex on Blairs Bridge Road near Six Flags.
“From the investigators’ standpoint, it was one of those cases that has that effect on you, mainly because it was kids and they were brutally murdered in their own home,” Herman said. “It was a career-defining case for me. We made it a passion to get those folks brought in.”
The girls’ four killers — Inez Ottis, Rudoph Ottis, Robert Aaron Floyd and Antonio Lowery — were eventually sentenced to life in prison, but not before shaking up a county seemingly under siege.
“It polarized the community,” Herman said. “We had had a rash of pretty brutal homicides. If you think, at that time, coming off the holidays and the (Sara) Tokars murder in November, you thought, ‘This was the coup de grace.’ What else could happen?”
A drug angle soon surfaced, placing the girls’ mother, Barbara Ann Jenkins, in a criminal light.
“We focused on the girls’ mother right away. She was involved in moving some drugs,” Herman said about cocaine trafficking. “Even though it took a while for her to come clean with what was going on in her life, it was clear she wasn’t involved.”
Jenkins, who died in 2003, was ruled out as a murder suspect and not brought up on charges relating to the two kilos of cocaine she had just brought back from Miami.
“I remember interviewing her that night,” Herman said. “We had the mother who lost her kids and we also had the reason they were killed. We didn’t pounce on her right away. We needed her to try to establish who was going to rip her off.”
Evidence at the scene pointed to a home invasion in which the premises were ransacked, although computers and cellphones were left untouched.
“Whoever was there had been looking for cash or drugs,” Herman said.
Two years of following leads, including tips from drug culture denizens, eventually supplied the information needed to collar the felons and convict them in 1996.
“I think the big thing was the brutality and that it was kids,” Herman said. “Even people in the drug business, that mindset was, ‘You crossed the line.’ It’s one thing to rip off the dope dealer, but it’s another thing when you start killing kids.”
During the trials, Assistant District Attorney Russ Parker said the crimes were particularly heinous.
“These were not merciful killings,” he said during closing arguments at Rudolph Ottis’ trial in February 1996. “These children suffered, both mentally and physically. They were terrified and tortured.”
Last week, Parker recalled the work involved in obtaining the convictions, including proving a conspiracy theory.
“There were a lot of objections by the defense counsel. It seems every time Judge (Robert) Fluornoy took a recess, I had to read up on the conspiracy law,” Parker said. “We argued over that for hours on end.”
He said the stunning facts of the case seared it into memory, even 20 years later.
“They were young, pretty little girls,” Parker said. “It was enough to make you cry."