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Published July 09, 2009 11:07 pm - A niece of a Carthage couple slain last year confirmed Thursday that a St. Louis private investigations firm hired by relatives assisted in the probe that led to the arrests and charging of two suspects in the crime. Laura Godenzi, of Anchorage, Alaska, said a group of relatives of Robert and Ellen Sheldon hired PDI Investigations to help the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department in the unsolved double homicide.

Niece applauds sheriff for accepting assistance in murder case



By Jeff Lehr

jlehr@joplinglobe.com

A niece of a Carthage couple slain last year confirmed Thursday that a St. Louis private investigations firm hired by relatives assisted in the probe that led to the arrests and charging of two suspects in the crime.

Laura Godenzi, of Anchorage, Alaska, said a group of relatives of Robert and Ellen Sheldon hired PDI Investigations to help the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department in the unsolved double homicide. She said they were “worried” that the case had dragged on for so long and there did not seem to be much progress being made.

The hiring of the private agency was never intended to imply any criticism of the job that sheriff’s investigators were doing, she said. She said the family simply thought the department might be able to use some assistance.

“There’s nothing wrong with needing help and nothing wrong with accepting it,” Godenzi told the Globe in a telephone interview.

She said the decision to hire Mike Barbieri’s firm to look into the case “seems to have worked out well.”

Darren J. Winans, 21, of rural Jasper, was arrested last week on a gun-theft charge related to the murders, and Matthew D. Laurin, 19, of Springfield, was arrested Tuesday night. Both men were charged Wednesday with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of armed-criminal action, and a single count of first-degree burglary.

“I think that it was really great that Sheriff (Archie) Dunn and (Detective) Kevin Mitchell recognized that Mike could be someone that could be of assistance to them,” Godenzi said.

PDI Investigations’ exact role in the case remains uncertain. Barbieri told the Globe before a news conference Wednesday announcing the arrests that the firm developed certain informants in the area who provided information that ultimately led to the arrests.

The sheriff did not mention the private agency’s involvement during the news conference. Following the conference, he would not confirm or deny its involvement in the case. The sheriff said he had some legal concerns with discussing the matter and referred questions about it to the Jasper County prosecutor’s office.

The Globe has been unable to reach Prosecutor Dean Dankelson since the news conference.

Winans and Laurin pleaded innocent to the charges during a video arraignment Thursday morning in Jasper County Circuit Court. Both men waived formal arraignment and entered their pleas. They are being represented by public defenders.

The pair are accused of stabbing the Sheldons to death the night of Oct. 11 inside their home on Black Powder Lane west of Carthage. The sheriff has characterized the murders as a burglary gone wrong.

Godenzi said she and other relatives of the couple are “relieved” and “happy” to see the investigation produce arrests. But she was also somewhat surprised by the outcome, she said.



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