It happened in 2003.
A 17-year-old boy went swimming in the Ohio River with two other young people.
Three went into the river at Warwood, and only two returned.
Thirteen years later, this cold case is close to being solved.
Thanks to the Ohio Valley Cold Case Task Force and the victim’s relentless family, the answers are finally coming to light.
Andrew Winkler was discovered floating in the Ohio River two days after he went swimming with two other young people.
“It destroyed my mother,” noted Andrew’s brother, Jonathan. “It pretty much killed her the same day it killed my brother.”
The medical examiner ruled the drowning accidental.
His family didn’t believe it.
“No,” said his mother, Shawna Winkler of Wheeling. “Not for a second.”
“He could out-swim me any day, and he liked to dive and could swim long distances,” said Jonathan.
They say the Wheeling Police detective on the case also suspected foul play.
“He told me, ‘I’m going for murder on this case,’ ” recalled Jonathan.
Then that detective was called up for active duty in the military.”
“And somehow the case just kind of went by the wayside and got stagnant,” said Harry Croft, retired from the Ohio County Sheriff’s Department and current Ohio Valley Cold Case Task Force homicide investigator.
“That’s so common in most of the cold cases,” noted Fred Connors, coordinator of the task force. “If you lose one key detective or somebody, the case goes out the window.”
So older brother Jonathan, 19 at the time, started his own investigation.
He discovered a surveillance camera on top of the old water filtration plant in Warwood.
He says he convinced police to get the video just before it was recorded over, and he was even allowed to view it.
He says it showed the three young people.
“”Three went down to the river, and only two came back.” he said.
The task force is now actively involved in the investigation, especially two members–Harry Croft and former Ohio County Sheriff Tom Burgoyne.
They have interviewed people in six states, and task force members say they all relate the same scenario.
“Things got out of hand,” noted Croft. “One man attempted to sexually abuse the female. Andrew saw this going on and came to the female’s aid. And Andrew never got out.”
Croft says the girl managed to get away from her attacker, and climbed up the bank.
He says the male came up later.
“He came up and he had Andrew’s CD player and wallet and he gave them to the girl,” said Shawna Winkler. “He told her, ‘Andrew won’t be needing these anymore.’ “
His mother wears Andrew’s bracelet with his initials, and a pendant with his picture.
His brother built a cross at the site.
And the task force members are more determined than ever.
“We need somebody to do their job,” said Croft. “And if that’s the city building or the people on the street or just plain individuals, we need somebody to do the right thing and come forward and tell us something so we can get this to a grand jury and achieve closure for this family.”
“There are enough facts,” said Shawna. “This person should be behind bars.”
The Winkler family is offering a reward of up to $20,000 in cash for anyone with information leading to the arrest and conviction of Andrew’s killer.
You can send the information to the Ohio Valley Cold Case Task Force, PO Box 2180, Wheeling, WV 26003.
Or you can call the task force at (304) 312-7896.