Cold case still leaves lingering question: Who killed Mary Ann Higginbotham and Tim Willoughby?

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — In the nightstand next to her bed, Norma Higginbotham keeps her daughter Mary Ann’s report card. She also keeps her drawings, her Christmas cards.

She keeps all of it.

They are keepsakes she can’t seem to let go.

There are other memories stashed in that same drawer Norma wishes would go away.

In that drawer are her daughter’s obituary, the condolences cards she received, and a sleazy detective magazine with the headline: “Who killed the blonde in the barrel?”

“I don’t know what to make of that headline,” Norma told I-Team 8 during an interview this week. “It was shocking.”

Nearly 38 years after Mary Ann Higginbotham was fatally shot, stuffed in a barrel and cast aside into the White Lick Creek near Mooresville, Indiana State Police are no closer to making an arrest. The cold case, still featured on the Indiana State Police department’s website, is now considered to be suspended.

Norma has her own explanation: authorities botched the case.

“It’s disgusting,” Norma told I-Team 8 during an interview this week.

But Indiana State Police and the Hendricks County Prosecutor have their explanation — there simply isn’t enough “sufficient evidence” to proceed forward with a case.

Mary Ann Higginbotham went missing in 1978. Her body wouldn’t be discovered until a year later in June of 1979 about three miles south of Mooresville. The body of her boyfriend, Tim Willoughby, has never been found. Local newspapers headlines initially speculated at the time that Tim may have had something to do with Mary Ann’s disappearance. But four years later in 1983, the Hendricks County Prosecutor’s Office brought charges against two men.

Court records show that an informant told police that Tim may have known details about the suspects’ alleged involvement in a car theft ring. The informant also told detectives at the time that Tim wanted money or that he was “going to rat them.” In response, the informant told police that the two suspects then plotted to kill Tim and his girlfriend, Mary Ann Higginbotham, according to the court records reviewed by I-Team 8.

The informant, believed to have first hand knowledge of the crimes, also told detectives that the two men confessed to the crime and that she was forced to clean their bloody clothes. She also had key details about the crime – including that she had been in possession of Mary Ann Higginbotham’s rings, and that many of them had been washed to remove any traces of evidence.

Despite additional information that the two suspects may have removed Tim’s body from a barrel upon learning of the discovery of Mary Ann’s body – the charges against the men were later dropped due to insufficient evidence.

I-Team 8 is not identifying the persons of interest because the charges were dismissed and new DNA testing done within the past three years could not link them to 10 pieces of evidence that had been submitted to the state crime lab for DNA analysis.

During a recent interview, Norma showed I-Team 8 the letter she received from the prosecutor’s office detailing how the case against the two men was being dropped.

“I didn’t know what to think because I think they should have gone ahead and charged them,” Norma said.

Detective Randy Pratt with Indiana State Police told I-Team 8 that he was disappointed but respects the decision by the Hendricks County Prosecutor.

“I was ate up with that case for awhile,” Pratt told I-Team 8 during a phone interview Wednesday. “That family’s pain was my pain.”

The former Hendricks County Prosecutor, David H. Coleman, declined to be interviewed by I-Team 8 because he said he couldn’t remember all the details of the case. But he did say he didn’t fully trust the informant’s story and didn’t feel strongly enough about the case to move forward to trial.

Patricia Baldwin, the current Hendricks County Prosecutor, released this statement to I-Team 8:

“This case was investigated at the time of the occurrence and reopened at least three times in the past 20 years, and many leads were followed up.  The family has been kept apprised of the investigations.  Although it is frustrating there is not sufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution.”