Dateline   |  July 26, 2013

'Secrets in the Desert,' Part 1

Tim McKillop and Joyce Sterrenberg, just 20-years-old, took a ride out to the desert in the warm spring of 1962. What happened next would be a mystery that spanned over 50 years.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> what a strange place is the past. it doesn't exist anymore beyond where it's put us and the fading memories. and yet how that poisoned hand can reach up through the dark and torture basements of half forgotten years.

>> i've heard a lot of stories from both sides.

>> this is ron macumber. if anyone should know about this particular past, it is he, yet how he could he know who betrayed his trust, his father, his mother, which one?

>> i don't now what's true, what's not true. i don't know who told what.

>> neither did katie or the young lawyer at the arizona justice project who opened the musty file and looked inside.

>> we don't want to close this case because it's always haunted us.

>> of course, it has. even though it happened long before she was born. how long? 50 years. phoenix wasn't the sprawling very modern city we know today. back then lots of open deserts, dirt paths dotted with cactus, framed by red mountain peaks. oh, and, of course, there were those outrageous tales. one evening in the warm spring of 1962 , a young phoenix couple took a ride out to the desert.

>> this was two young people who were engaged to be married.

>> tim mckillop and joyce sterrenberg freshly scrubbed, just 20 years old, met at the phone company. that's where they worked.

>> these two people were upstanding citizens. they both had jobs. they both came from very good families.

>> yes, and then it was may 23rd . tim and joyce had dinner with her parents and drove off in a '59 chevy, not unlike this one and stopped for a milk shake and tim veered off the road at lover's lane and do what people do in such place.

>> they were ray young couple going out for a night on the town and to be with one another.

>> it was early next morning when a school bus passed by, and the kids yelled at the bus driver to stop, here just off the dirt road was the '59 impala and lying in the dust nearby were tim and joyce , both dead.

>> the boy's body was found closer to the vehicle, and the female was found a little bit farther away like she had tried to escape.

>> uh-huh. both shot?

>> both shot twice in the head.

>> to say it was shocking in the phoenix of '62 just didn't happen.

>> it was a huge story, they were killed for no reason. it was a senseless murder. in fact, this looked almost like an execution. except as maricopa sheriff's officers discovered whoever did it wasn't careful. there was evidence.

>> there were four shell casings found at the crime scene . there was a wallet found close to the body of timothy mckillop. there was nothing stolen from the wallet as far as we knew. there was human hair found at the crime scene and the human hair was collected, and it was impounded.

>> the captain in charge took pictures of the crime scene and then had the impala towed downtown. there was a lot of scuttlebutt going on in the sheriff's office that we had a major case and that was, you know, everybody was wondering what's happening.

>> jerry is now a renown nature photographer, but 50 years ago he was a sheriff's deputy, a fingerprint specialist. he took charge of the impala.

>> i began to examine the vehicle, starting at the driver's door and my procedure was to first dust the print, and if it looked like it was anywhere near usable, i would photograph it right where it is.

>> the photograph, then lifted 15 prints. his next job was to try to match those to the people who had most likely touched the car starting with tim mckillop and joyce sterrenberg.

>> a young couple brutally murder murdered and you're holding the hands of these individuals to obtain fingerprints. that in itself was indelible in my mind.

>> three fingerprints on the car could not be identified. they were sent off to the fbi for analysis. but jacka held on to a fourth print, print number one, taken from the chrome strip on the driver's door.

>> it was a confusing image. it looked like a palm print and yet it could have been an overlay of a fingerprint on a palm print. but it was not sent to the fbi because it was just be almost a waste of time because they didn't keep palm prints as such on file.

>> the three fingerprints couldn't be matched to anything in the fbi 's files. the shell casings weren't much help either. dozens of guns were confiscated and test-fired but none match the 45 caliber casings found at the scene.

>> they had hundreds of leads and they pursued hundreds of leads. there were just tons of people calling in with information that they thought was important.

>> but nothing came of any of it. yet, even as the investigation stalled, the public's appetite for news about the double murder nobody could figure out was insatiable.

>> nobody could make sense of it.

>> was there any sign the woman had been sexually assaulted or anything?

>> no, no signs of sexual assault, so that was not a motive.

>> weird.

>> very strange.

>> that somebody had just, well, thrill-killed them or something.

>> sure, that's what it seemed like.

>> the mckillops and sterrenbergs buried the two together. felt like they would have wanted it that way. tail fins shrank and then vanished and years later even a small boy named ron could tell that a certain marriage had gone sour as marriages will, but this one, this one took justice in its poisonous grip