By Mike Taibbi Correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/23/2008 8:18:22 PM ET 2008-05-24T00:18:22
TRANSCRIPT

This story originally aired Dateline NBC on May 23, 2008.

It was a tragedy that unfolded in the spring of 1981, in Maplewood, a quiet suburb of St. Paul, Minn.

Barbara "Bobbi" Winn, 35, had written a breakup letter to her boyfriend telling him their volatile relationship was all over.

Bobbi didn't know that her then-14-year-old daughter, Tammi, was awake in the bed right next to her.

Tammi Winn: Being a nosy kid, I just peeked over to see what she was writing.

Mike Taibbi, Dateline NBC: What was the thing you saw? The words or the sentence you saw when you peeked over?

Tammi Winn: She was talking about, you know, she deserves more, basically. You know? He wasn't going to be a part of her life. You know, she was done. It was over.

"He" was Aaron "Bubbie" Foster, a security guard Barbara had been dating after a recent separation from her husband. Barbara's children, Tammi, Tyronne and Randy, were just youngsters then, and they say they didn't like Foster -- especially because they'd seen him getting physical with their mother.

Tammi Winn: I could hear them arguing. And I could hear her telling him, "Let go of me." So I go into the room. And he was holding her down on the bed. And of course when he looked up and saw me standing there, then he would kind of like just stand up and back away.

Mike Taibbi: Did you ever go to her and say, "Hey mom, what's up with this guy?"

Tammi Winn: She asked if I like him, and I told her no. And she asked me why, and I said "Well, you know, why would I like somebody that puts their hands on my mom?" And she just kind of nodded, and left it at that.

But Barbara made her decision: it was over. She wrote that letter, laying it all out.

Mike Taibbi: Some of the parts that struck me –"This is the last letter I'm ever going to write you." "I will not be abused." "I'm tired of bruises." "I am somebody, I don't have to be treated like a nobody." "Strike three ... and you're out."What did you feel when you read that? I'll bet you felt a mixture of pride and relief, both of those things?

Tammi Winn: Both. Because I thought she always deserved better.

Tammi never spoke with her mother about the letter, and says she didn't think of it again until she and her brothers, youngsters then, were jolted from their sleep in the middle of the night on May 8, 1981.

Tyronne Winn: I got woke up to some argument. And so I get out of my bed. And it was loud.

It was just after midnight. Tyronne, 12 at the time, said he and his 15-year-old brother, Randy, heard their mom and Bubbie Foster arguing in their mom's bedroom, right next to theirs.

Tyronne Winn: I opened up my door and I'm listening, and then I hear a gunshot. And then I hear my mama saying, "Oh, Bubbie. That hurt." And that's when we ran out the room.

According to the children, they headed toward the commotion in their mother's room and saw Foster running out.

Tyronne: As I'm coming in the room, he's running out of the room. And my brother Randy says, "What happened?" And he says, "She shot herself." And we, we knew that was not right. Immediately.

Tammi said she, too, saw Bubbie running away from whatever had happened.

Tammi Winn: As I'm running through the hallway, he's going down the first flight of stairs there.

Tyronne: She was bent over forward, so we run over to her.

Tammi Winn: And I run into the room, and I see Randy and Tyronne already in there. And everybody's looking in one direction. So then I turn and look and see my mom.

Her mom was unable to speak, her very life slipping away from a single gunshot through her heart. The gun was Bubbie Foster's, laying right there on the floor beside her.

Tyronne: She's not breathing good, and he's out of the room.

His older brother snapped.

Tyronne: And the gun was lying in front of her. Randy grabs the gun and he wants to go shoot Bubbie.

Mike Taibbi: How do you know he wants to shoot Bubbie?

Tyronne: He said that's what he was going to do. He grabbed a gun. He said "I'm going to kill him."

Tyronne talked his older brother out of it, but the nightmare had begun. There are the memories that would haunt Barbara Winn's children relentlessly. So profound was their grief that they couldn't talk about that night for decades, even to each other.

Tyronne: It's deep in there. You know, we've gone years without talking about it. We never discussed it. You just ... You bottled it up.

They finally open that bottle with Dateline.

We set up a camera in a quiet place in their home and invited anyone in the family to speak to that camera, about their feelings, about their pain, and about new developments in the case.

In-laws....

Patti Bruce: Trying to gather documents ... gone to court houses.

Nieces…

Jackie Steele: For what?

Siblings…

Bernadette: I want Aaron Foster to know what he's done to this family.

But most of all, about their hopes of bringing a man they say is a killer to justice.

Tammi Winn: Sometimes you wonder is it going to happen. Is it ever going to happen? We will get justice for Barbara, my mother.

"To my mom, your memories for ever etched in our brain and in our emotions," said Tyronne. "Our love is undying."

A quarter-century after their mother's violent death, Barbara Winn's kids are still haunted by fragments of a horror they experienced as children.

Now, speaking alone and only to a camera, they try to make sense of those raw memories of a then-14-year-old girl, just coming of age.

(confession cam)

Tammi Winn: I felt like I didn't have anyone. You look around on Mother's Day and people are with their mothers and they're doing all kinds of things and I didn't have anyone. I didn't have you.

It was a horrific scene. Three adolescent kids, awakened by a gunshot, racing to find their mother collapsed against her bedroom wall, gasping for air, dying.

Mike Taibbi, Dateline NBC: Were you holding her hand?

Tammi Winn: I had her head on my lap.

Tyronne: I'm 12-years-old. I'm sitting there watching my mom just bleed.

Mike Taibbi: She never said anything?

Tyronne Winn: Not from the moment she got shot, when she said, "Oh, Bubbie. That hurt." She couldn't speak after that.

"Bubbie" was Aaron "Bubbie" Foster, the man their mother was kicking out. Seconds after hearing the shot, all three kids say they saw Foster running from Barbara's room and bounding downstairs to the kitchen.

Tammi Winn: I reach over and I grabbed the phone to call the operator. And I called the operator to get the ambulance there.

But an ambulance was already on the way. According to police reports from that night, Foster called 911 from the kitchen phone downstairs, telling the dispatcher "She took a gun from me and shot herself."

In the end, nothing could have saved Barbara Winn. She breathed her last in front of her children, as her boyfriend came back upstairs to the bedroom.

Tyronne: Bubbie comes back in. And he lays -- if that's what you call it -- lays my mom down face-first on the floor. And then he leaves again and he takes the gun.

The gun was Foster's, and after picking it up, he left the house, driving off in Barbara's car. He returned pretty quickly, as the kids remember it, and by that time the Maplewood police were there.

Here's Foster's account in the police report: that Barbara had asked him to leave and he agreed. He said he was packing up his things downstairs when he "...heard a shot and went back upstairs." Barbara was still able to speak, Foster said, telling him "I just shot myself" and asking him -- for some reason-- to "get rid of the gun."

And so, Foster said, he did, taking off in Barbara's car, and "throwing the gun out the window."

Mike Taibbi, Dateline NBC: What about the part of his story that her dying declaration had been, "get rid of the gun?"

Tammi Winn: Well, we knew that was a bunch of bull. I mean, most people that commit suicide could really care less what happens to the weapon or anything that they use.

Tyronne Winn: Yeah, people that commit suicide normally don't try to cover up that they're committing suicide.

The part of Foster's story about tossing the gun was accurate. Police found it where he said he'd tossed it.

But detectives at the scene noted several suspicious details in their official reports. There was blood on Foster's hands, and "some discoloration" on one hand that was "not unlike a powder mark." Neighbors in the next apartment said they'd heard "banging," "glass breaking," and the couple fighting.

And there were clear signs of a struggle: police noticed Barbara's "fingernails on the first two fingers were broken." In the bedroom, a bent curling iron and a plant were knocked over.

Foster himself was "missing two buttons which appeared to be ripped off."

But most of all, there was Barbara Winn herself, with bruises and a swollen black eye.

Still, Foster insisted to police that Barbara was a suicide victim and said so within earshot of the victim's daughter.

Tammi Winn: And they asked him what happened and he said, "My old lady shot herself." And kind of pounded his hands on the roof of the car.

Not surprisingly, the cops didn't buy it, at least back then. They charged Aaron "Bubbie" Foster with murder. They had the gun, four bullets for that gun from Foster's pocket, a victim who looked beaten, and the three children who were there.

An open and shut case? Not at all, it turned out.

Despite the bruises, the crime scene, and what the kids saw, the medical examiner ruled that Barbara Winn's death was not a homicide, not a suicide, but "undetermined."

Tammi Winn: We thought that was crazy, it was ridiculous. It was like "how could they say that?"

Tyronne: Disbelief. Because we were there. We knew what happened.

But the prosecutor noted there was some evidence -- gunpowder residue -- suggesting Barbara had touched the gun, giving some credence to a suicide theory. Together with the medical examiner's ruling, the prosecutor concluded there was "insufficient evidence" to support a murder charge. The case was dropped and Aaron Foster was released.

And with no connections and no resources, there was no way for Barbara's family to pursue the case, and it faded away.

So what became of Aaron Foster?

Well, here he is today. A free man, who's lived the good life for the last 26 years.

(confession cam)

Tammi Winn: We're hoping that after all this time has passed, people will finally listen to us and see what we've been telling them from the beginning, that he murdered her.

What about all that evidence, and all of Foster's seemingly contradictory explanations that night?

Well finally, the family learned there might be someone who could help them figure out -- and maybe prove -- what really happened that night.

Bill Snyder: They've pinned a lot of hopes on me and I'm not about to let them down.

"I want you to think and imagine, close your eyes if you have to, you sitting there as a child watching your mother die," Tyronne told the confession cam.

For 26 years, Barbara "Bobbi" Winn's children have had to live with the knowledge that the man they believe was responsible for their mother's death remained free and uncharged.

Then, something happened. In 2006, Aaron Foster applied to renew a gun permit and the local county sheriff, who was running for re-election, recalled the Winn case and Foster's brief time as a suspect and said hold on here.

Sheriff's investigator Bill Snyder was called to his boss's office.

Snyder: The sheriff handed me the file and said, "I want you to read this and tell me what you think of it." And that's all he said. I mean, everybody heard rumors about Aaron Foster had killed his girlfriend. It peaked my curiosity when I sat down and read and reread the case and went "wow." Did I know about the case? Yeah, I had heard things about it over the years. Did I ask to investigate this? No.

So the sheriff's office launched a new investigation, searching for new witnesses or evidence, and Dateline was given unique access to Snyder's investigation as it all unfolded.

"Some 40 some names of drug dealers and Aaron Foster was listed."

And Snyder quickly learned he wasn't the only one looking at the case.

Patti Bruce: With this it was just so personal. It was something inside of me. I couldn't stop looking at it.

When Patti Bruce, Barbara's sister-in-law, learned from a local reporter that the police were taking a fresh look, she got to work too.

Patti Bruce: I'm calling about a 25-year-old cold case.

Her first task was to collect every available record or document connected to the case, many of them never known to Barbara's family.

Patti Bruce: I had called down to the medical examiner's office and requested a copy of the autopsy report. I called the Maplewood Police Department and got a copy of the police reports.

Patti was only was only 19 when Barbara died, newly married to Barbara's brother. Now, 26 years later, she was the family's self-appointed torchbearer for the fight to finally find justice for Barbara.

Mike Taibbi: You're just a housewife with three kids?

Patti Bruce: Correct.

Mike Taibbi: Trying to make sense of all this?

Patti Bruce: Right.

Mike Taibbi: This was not someone you knew very well. And yet, here you are more than two decades later, diving in as though it were the most important thing in your life. What was the motivation?

Patti Bruce: The injustice. People looked at these reports over the years, and they didn't care. And I believe they should. I believe that this story needs to be told and it turned out to be something much much bigger than I ever, ever imagined.

Patti soon found that it was one thing to gather documents, maintain a website, make t-shirts and bumper stickers, and reach out from her living room, calling the family together to update them on what she'd found.

Patti Bruce: A lot of people, even in city hall, are starting to go, "Oh, there really is something to this."

But to dig further for the truth, she needed help in the field.

Snyder: It's just interesting how everything happens for a reason.

Patti Bruce: And this case needed you.

She needed someone to follow up on leads and contacts that seemed to be everywhere.

Patti Bruce: The physical evidence included a gun.

Snyder: Right.

And that someone, the perfect partner for her, was sheriff's investigator Bill Snyder.

Bill Snyder: I did what police officers are trained to do. Who did a good job was Patti Bruce, because she would call people. She'd get them to open up to her and then she'd call me and say, "You ought to call this person, OK?"

(driving in car)

Bill Snyder: We're going to visit Armel Tatem, who is Bobbi's sister.

One of the key people Snyder interviewed was Barbara Winn's sister, Jean. She says she told police what she knew about that night in 1981, but was never contacted again -- and thus had never told her story until now.

Snyder: Has my phone call brought up a lot of memories?

Jean: A lot of memories.

These are memories regarding the very night of her sister's death. Together at a bar, Barbara told Jean that she was breaking up with her boyfriend, Aaron Foster.

Jean: She stated that she was through with him, and he wasn't going to make a fool out of her anymore.

Jean told Snyder that Foster came into the bar and started an argument with Barbara that soon became heated.

Jean: My back was kind of halfway turned, but I saw it out of the corner of my eye where he had hit her in the stomach. And she was like clutching her stomach, but she quickly straightened up and other people saw it, too. Someone said "Why don't you go and stay with your sister, Jean?" And she said "No, I have children who have to go to school in the morning, so I'll be OK, I'll go home." And when she went out the door, I remember her looking back at us, and that was the last time I saw her alive.

Snyder: This is good information, very good information.

It was a story about Aaron Foster's alleged rage that night.

Snyder: It verifies that she was in a good state of mind and she was done with him.

And it wasn't the only such story Snyder would hear.

Snyder: So, that just builds motive.

He tracked down James Ross, who'd declined to press charges back then against a man he later identified as Foster, who he claimed had pressed a gun to his head, threatening to kill him an hour before the Winn shooting.

Snyder: That's the beauty of cold case investigations. Time changes people's minds and people who aren't willing to talk to me back then are fully willing to sit down with me now.

Snyder was learning more and more about Foster's behavior in the years after Barbara's death.

Snyder: In 1985, he was arrested for aggravated assault at the time for his then-wife Linda Foster. He said he was going to shoot her in the head.

That's right: four years after Barbara's death, Aaron Foster was arrested again when he "pointed a gun" at his wife's head. Foster denied it. The charges were dropped.

Nine years after Barbara's death, another girlfriend told police Foster "was verbally and physically abusive, resulting in bruises."

And 21 years after Barbara died, in 2002, Snyder also learned that Foster's second wife went to court seeking a restraining order because, she said, "his rage continues to become worse." Her request was denied.

Snyder thought there was a theme there, for sure: anger and abusive behavior. And he pursued that theme.

Snyder: This is Kellen's house -- lets go have a little chat with Kellen.

Kellen Cain lived with Foster for several years in the late ‘90s.

Bill Snyder: I'm just kind of getting an overall view of Aaron from different people. You dated him, right?

Kellen: Yes.

She told Snyder she'd known nothing about his past confrontations with women and next to nothing about Barbara Winn.

Kellen: I didn't know Barbara by "Barbara" at all. I knew that he had a girlfriend who committed suicide.

Bill Snyder: What'd he tell you about that?"

Kellen: He said he came home one night and came in the door and she shot herself at the same time as he was coming through the door. And he said it was just a hard time in his life, and he doesn't talk about it.

Kellen's account was at least the third version from Aaron Foster about what happened to Barbara Winn. Don't forget, back on that may night in 1981, he'd told the 911 operator that Barbara "took his gun from (him) and shot herself." An hour later, he told detectives he was downstairs in the kitchen when she shot herself. Now, he was again saying he witnessed the shooting, just coming in the door as Barbara pulled the trigger.

Bill Snyder: Did he say that he was in the room with her when she shot herself?

Kellen: Yeah, he said as he came in the door he saw her commit suicide.

These are intriguing details, Snyder thought.

Snyder: It was a good interview, she had some useful information.

And the deeper Bill Snyder dug at the case, the more questions he had -- especially when one familiar name kept popping up over and over again.

Snyder: Bill Finney knew Barbara Winn and Aaron Foster. Bill Finney was present at Barbara's autopsy the day after she died.

Just who was Bill Finney? He was none other than the former police chief of St. Paul, Minn.

Mike Taibbi, Dateline NBC: What were the facts that you knew about his relationship with Aaron Foster?

Bill Snyder: That they were very close friends.

For those coming of age in the ‘70s, the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul, Minn., was a tight-knit place that produced friendships -- and nicknames -- to endure.

Aaron Foster was always "Bubbie," and years later he'd still be tight with guys called "Plookie," and, especially, another friend called "Corky."

When Bubbie got married, Corky was his best man.

People around St. Paul saw them together often. Kellen Cain, Foster's former girlfriend, says Corky Finney usually visited on weekends.

Kellen: He usually came about 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning. And he'd just sit on the sofa and read the newspaper, kind of like he lived there.

Bill Snyder: Isn't that kind of strange?

Kellen: Well, I thought it was. But I figured that they were just good friends.

Corky's real name is Bill Finney. He was the smart guy, with ambition, plans, and a strong desire to give back to his community, plans that he achieved by being appointed by the mayor to become St. Paul's first-ever black police chief.

In 1992, Finney appeared humbled by his new job.

(1992 local news)

Finney: To know that the people that you've grown up with, served, have enough faith in you to support you for police chief, say "we want you to protect us" -- what a rush.

He'd risen quickly through the ranks.

He was a charismatic rising star the public came to know and admire.

"How you doing, chief?"

Finney: Good! Glad to be here...

And his friend, Aaron Foster? Well, "Bubbie" wasn't "Corky."

Foster had several brushes with the law over the years, stumbling from one job to another as a janitor, but mainly in security.

Snyder: Could Aaron read or write?

Kellen: Aaron could read very little. He was dyslexic. He would get letters in the mail and he'd ask me to read them to him.

The Foster-Finney friendship stuck out like a sore thumb for Snyder, especially as he saw a pattern emerge: it seemed when Foster got in trouble, Finney would show up.

Snyder: I don't know why he would go there.

It seemed to start the day after Foster was booked on a murder charge in Barbara's death.

Bill Snyder: The original investigators talked about Bill Finney being at the autopsy. Why was Finney at the autopsy?

It was a key question for the veteran investigator, especially since the crime took place not in his jurisdiction of St. Paul, but in nearby Maplewood.

According to Maplewood's police reports, Foster described then-police Sgt. Finney "as his big brother, although they are not related."

Patti Bruce: Bill Finney knew that Aaron Foster was a suspect. He had absolutely no business being there. He was out of his jurisdiction.

Bill Snyder: That was extremely bizarre to me.

Mike Taibbi: Not illegal?

Snyder: No, not illegal.

In fact, Snyder says he looked for and couldn't find any evidence that Bill Finney had influenced the investigation of Aaron "Bubbie" Foster.

Bill Snyder: As a sergeant at the time, I can't see him having any weight. My personal opinion that he was down there to glean the facts of what happened. He wanted to learn what happened that night.

Still, at that autopsy, according to police reports, Finney made statements he saw with his own eyes six months before Barbara's death.

Finney told police that his friend Bubbie Foster had assaulted Barbara in the backseat of his car.

Patti Bruce: He watched Aaron Foster beat on Barbara in the backseat of his car. He knows what the man is capable of.

But Finney also said Foster was just full of hot air, that he'd "threatened people in the past about getting his gun, and taking care of them, but ... was all talk and wouldn't do anything like that."

Bill Finney also showed up at St. Paul police headquarters, four years after Barbara's death, when Foster was arrested for threatening his wife with a gun.

Snyder: Three counts of aggravated assault at the time for his then-wife Linda Foster.

This time, Finney came to the interrogation room.

Snyder: Now-Lt. Bill Finney was present during this interview. That's highly unusual to have a lieutenant in an interview.

According to police reports, "Lt. Finney explained the situation to (prosecutor) James Konen, who allowed Foster to be released pending further investigation."

Snyder: That case was not charged.

We don't know exactly what "explained the situation" means, but these charges, too, were dropped. The investigation went away.

And Snyder found more -- a lot more -- that shed light on the character of Aaron Foster.

Bill Snyder: I had always heard stories that Aaron had worked for the state's largest drug dealer.

That would be Ralph "Plookie" Duke, "Plookie" from the old neighborhood, who became one of Minnesota's most notorious cocaine traffickers and is now serving two life sentences in federal prison.

Snyder: A lot of shootings, a lot of crime going on over here right now.

Producer: What are we doing now?

Snyder: Interview Plookie Duke's old girlfriend.

Plookie Duke's ex girlfriend, Doris, who did 14 years for her involvement in the operation, says she knew Aaron "Bubbie" Foster well.

Bill Snyder: Do you know Aaron Foster?

Doris Admon: Oh, he did things for Plookie.

Bill Snyder: Like what?

Doris Admon: Oh, he moved stuff for him, you know. Bringing drugs from California up to here, you know.

Bill Snyder: When did Aaron first become involved with Plookie?

Doris Admon: I think Aaron became involved with Plookie back in I think the early '80s, I think?

The federal agent who'd headed up the Plookie Duke case, Mike Carey, told Snyder he knew Foster as associate of Plookie's, but saw no reason to draw a bead on him.

Snyder: Did Aaron Foster's name come up in this investigation?

Carey: Aaron Foster's name came up on the wiretap.

According to investigator Snyder, he learned Aaron Foster's connection to Plookie Duke, a known drug dealer, was widely known.

Snyder: That never made sense to me.

And if that was true, Barbara Winn's sister-in-law found it shocking that Bill Finney, now the police chief, hired Aaron Foster at the St. Paul police department.

Patti Bruce: You become the St. Paul police chief. And then you hire this guy to transport firearms. And then give him a job in the property room. And then arm with a gun.

That's right: Chief Finney authorized a gun for his friend Foster and access to a squad car, and put Foster in charge of a key part of any police department's operation.

Snyder: He was in the property room, where all the evidence, of all the cases, except crime lab evidence is brought down for storing.

In fact, Snyder remembered that when he was a cop for the St. Paul Police Department, he occasionally saw Foster.

Mike Taibbi: What did you think of him?

Bill Snyder: I didn't know him very well. I knew that he was Finney's friend. The rumor in the St. Paul police department was that he was untouchable. That if you get into an argument with him, you're going to lose because he'll take it right to Finney and Finney will back him up.

They didn't hide their close friendship, either. The chief gave Foster a medal once, for breaking up a fight, and the two were often seen together, on and off the job.

But did any of that make Bill Finney guilty of anything?

Snyder: I only know him of being guilty of one thing. And that is extremely poor judgment in hiring Aaron Foster, and I would expect more out of the chief of police.

But, Snyder concluded, digging deeper into the Finney-Foster friendship was getting him no closer to answering his central question: what happened on that May midnight in 1981? Was Barbara Winn's death suicide or murder? Could he prove either conclusion after all these years?

Twenty-five years after the death of Barbara Winn, the story was back in the headlines, and not because of a break in the case, but because of politics.

In 2006, Bill Finney, by then retired as St. Paul police chief, was running for county sheriff. His opponent, incumbent Bob Fletcher, thought Finney's tight friendship with Aaron Foster was worth exploring -- and exploiting -- for political gain.

In fact, it was during the campaign that Bob Fletcher, Finney's opponent, assigned investigator Bill Snyder to look at the cold case.

Fletcher: You know, I think you could excuse some things from the past. I just wish Bill would admit it was wrong to be in the interview room in 1985.

Finney: My opponent may wish he's running against Aaron Foster, he's running against Bill Finney. I'll stand on my record.

Bill Finney turned down Dateline's request for an interview. But during the campaign, Finney was asked about the case on local news.

He talked about why he showed up at Barbara's autopsy.

Finney: I was incredulous. I couldn't believe she died and I wanted to, you know, know the cause of her death.

He talked about telling investigators at the autopsy about an incident six months earlier involving Foster and Barbara Winn.

Finney: I told them about a date the three of us were on. They were wrestling around the backseat of my car, and I told them to knock it off or I'd have to act as a police officer and put them both in jail.

And what did Finney say about the investigation of his friend Aaron Foster?

Finney: If the evidence exists, they should charge. If it doesn't, they should examine it for political overtones.

Finney lost that election in 2006.

Snyder says even though he was assigned in the middle of an election, it's not the politics that matters: it's the evidence, and that Barbara Winn's death is a case that deserves to be re-investigated on its own merits.

Bill Snyder: Why was this case never charged? Well, that's what I'm asking too.

Snyder has spent hundreds of hours on the Winn case and has spoken with dozens of people, some potentially key witnesses. But when he asked the Maplewood Police Department for the physical evidence, he was hit with a surprise.

Snyder: I went to search for it and I couldn't find the evidence. The evidence was all gone … It was misplaced by the Maplewood Police Department. And it's frustrating to me, because technology today could do so much with that stuff.

And Snyder never did find it. The gun, the bullets from Foster's pocket, Foster's clothes, the lab samples – they're all gone.

And what about the autopsy photos? Snyder was told those photos were nowhere to be found, but soon after Dateline called to ask for them, Snyder's phone rang.

Bill Snyder: Within, I think, an hour or maybe two hours of the phone call from your show, I got a phone call saying, "Oh, we found the autopsy photos." So, that's how they were found.

Mike Taibbi: And, what do the photos do for your case?

Snyder: Well, it reinforced how she had been physically assaulted. I mean, the evidence was right there.

It's strong evidence, says Snyder, that Barbara Winn had been in a physical struggle before a single bullet ended her life.

Snyder: She had bruises on her neck, on her face, on her hands, and on her body.

Mike Taibbi: Half-dozen bruises in all.

Snyder: Oh, yeah.

Remember, Foster had said repeatedly that said Barbara Winn had shot herself.

Bill Snyder: The angle of the bullet was a huge piece to me. Because that angle was such a steep angle. I took the gun and tried to do it myself. I don't see how she could have pulled that trigger at that angle.

To Snyder, the steep downward angle shows that someone taller than Barbara Winn pulled the trigger. Foster stands 6 feet 3 inches; Barbara Winn was 5 feet 8 inches tall.

And, Snyder says, the autopsy photos show something else.

Snyder: There were marks on her body where a gun -- it looked like the front sights of the gun -- had been pressed up against her chest. All those things added up.

What also added up were all the stories Snyder heard about Aaron Foster's boiling rage that night at the bar from witnesses who were either ignored or never solicited.

Snyder: I asked that question, "How come you never came forward?" She goes, "Nobody ever asked. If they would have asked, I would have told them."

Then were was Foster's inconsistent statements about where and how Barbara had gotten hold of his gun, where he was when the shot was fired, and the unbelievable explanation that she asked him to get rid of the gun.

But was it deliberate or an accident? Remember, the murder charges were dropped back in 1981, partly because of suspicious gunpowder marks on Barbara's left hand. Snyder has his own conclusion about what that means.

Snyder: She obviously grabbed it because she had a powder burn on her left palm. I believe in his mind he thinks she did shoot herself because she pulled the gun, or pushed the gun and he didn't intentionally shoot her. His finger was on the trigger and the gun went off.

Snyder believes whether his theory adds up to murder or manslaughter, it would still be a felony, unprosecuted for more than two-and-a-half decades.

But now, Barbara Winn's family believes after all that time, justice might finally be within reach.

Snyder: If it was up to me I'd have him under arrest right now, sitting in prison, in jail. It's not up to me, it's up to the prosecutors.

"It's sad that it took this long," Tammi Winn told our confession camera, "but I'm glad that people are listening "

Barbara Winn's family is still waiting, 27 years later, for a jury to hear the case against the man they say murdered her: Aaron Foster.

Tyronne: We know what you did. I was there, remember?

On Nov. 1, 2007, the waiting finally ended when a grand jury returned a murder indictment against Aaron Foster.

Mike Taibbi, Dateline NBC: When they came down with an indictment, you must have been pretty happy.

Patti Bruce: I couldn't even believe it. I'm very much at peace with the process.

Mike Taibbi: However it turns out in the end?

Patti Bruce: Ultimately, it's up to a jury.

It could be a tough case for the prosecution. Last month, the court proceedings against Foster began.

Foster pleaded not guilty and asked for the case to be dismissed. Remember, most of the physical evidence is missing, and even the prosecution admits many of Foster's seemingly incriminating statements made the night of the shooting should be thrown out because Foster made them after he had asked for an attorney.

Foster wouldn't speak with me as he left the courtroom, but Foster's lawyer earlier told local reporters that his client was shaken.

Attorney Gray: He's very nervous, as anybody would be. It's difficult to defend yourself against charges that are 27 years old, I can tell you that.

But 27 years later, Barbara Winn's family is determined as ever. When the trial proceedings started, the family showed up two-dozen strong and insisted nothing short of a guilty verdict will do.

Not for Barbara's niece, Jackie Steele, who said "This is a huge step. This is big for us. But like everybody agrees, we do want to see a conviction."

And not for her little sister, Bernadette, who, like others in the family, found the subject of Barbara's death too painful to discuss even with relatives all these years.

Bernadette: A conviction. That's what our hope is. That's what my desire is.

Bill Snyder: I did the best job I possibly could, so if he's put away it means I did a good job. But it's not what it means to me that important. It's what it means to the family.

Video: A song for Barbara Even veteran investigator Bill Snyder, an outsider, after all, found himself responding to that raw desire for justice that once paralyzed -- and now energizes -- Barbara Winn's family.

Bill Snyder: It finally isn't left hanging out there.

Mike Taibbi: A lesson in it?

Bill Snyder: I guess for families of victims and for anybody who ever knew about the case, don't give up. Don't give up. Don't ever give up. Ever. Fight for it. Fight for it, and make it happen.

Mike Taibbi: Though it costs you additional grief?

Bill Snyder: How else do you heal? Really, how else do you heal?

They'd silently endured so many years of waiting, and of agonized longing for the true story to be told.

Now, finally, it looks like the answers are right around the corner.

Mike Taibbi: He's either going to win or going to lose. What if he wins?

Tyronne: I actually try not to think about us not winning. I believe there's enough. People have enough sense when there is something wrong.

Tammi Winn: Mom, I love you will all my heart, even though you're not with us. I know you see us, I know you're around.

Tyronne: I've been working on a song for you. (singing) You know that I love you, from the bottom of my heart...

Tammi Winn: We will get justice for Barbara, my mother.

Tyronne: (continues singing) I love you mom.

Aaron Foster is set to stand trial on third-degree murder charges in July.

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