Her body was found fully clothed at the edge of the water. Beneath that clothing were multiple stab wounds.
“She’s found ... just dead and she’s wearing the same clothing that she was wearing when she left grandma’s house,” said Detective Michael Alston with the Waco Police Department.
But who killed her? That’s the question Waco police are still trying to figure out more than three decades after her brutal murder. But perhaps, recent DNA testing will soon help crack this cold case.
OCT. 17, 1989: SHEILA'S DISAPPEARANCE
Two days before Finch’s body was found, she was seen leaving her grandmother’s house at 2812 Ross Ave. Around 8:30 a.m., clothed in a long sleeve red sweat suit top and red pants, she hopped on her pink and white bike and trekked less than half a mile to the corner grocery store that once sat on Dutton Avenue and South 26th Street.
There, Finch picked up the payphone and dialed her Aunt Trina. Her uncle answered instead.
“She left… to use the payphone to call her Aunt Trina to come pick her up and grandma so she could get a ride to school to get her reenrolled at the elementary school that she had gone to before here in Waco,” Alston said.
Before, Finch moved from Waco to live with her father and stepmother in the Fort Worth area. Yet, Finch decided she wanted to move back to the city because she wanted to be with her grandmother. She was hoping she could re-enroll in Sul Ross School, 901 S. 7th St.
“That was just two days before she was snatched,” Alston said.
On the call, Finch’s uncle told his niece to call back in a few minutes because Aunt Trina had stepped out for a little bit.
“So she waited there at the grocery store at the payphone outside,” Alston said. “Then called back and the aunt agreed to come pick her up.”
She didn't know it then, but that was the last time anyone would hear from Finch.
Finch set off on her bike back to her grandmother’s house – only, she never made it back, Alston said.
“So about a 20 minute or so timeframe [since the call], the aunt was at the grandmother’s house,” he said. “Sheila wasn’t there. She never showed back up to the house.”
Aunt Trina and her grandmother started looking for her, but couldn’t find her. About 30 minutes later, her family called and notified Waco police and an official search for her began.
: SEARCHING FOR SHEILA
The search party consisted of patrol officers, the department's Special Operations Unit and other Waco PD detectives, as well as concerned neighbors and friends.
At one point, the Texas Department of Public Safety brought in a helicopter to aid in the search, according to an article published by the Waco Citizen when she went missing.
The search spanned in South Waco near her house to all the way down on Valley Mills Drive, Alston said.
Those searching spoke to neighbors. Some offered tips where they thought they saw young Finch. Each tip, however, led to a dead end.
“There were leads coming in, you know, people saying they saw a such and such car stop talking to a girl or somebody saw a girl over here riding a pink bicycle,” Alston said. “Everything was followed up on, nothing led to Sheila. It may have led to some other girl or something like that, but nothing led to her.”
Her picture -- one that is now famous across town -- was also shared to local news outlets in hopes to find the little brown-eyed brown haired girl.
The search concluded two days later on Thursday, Oct. 19, 1989 just before 3 p.m., according to the Waco Citizen.
“She was found two days later,” Alston mentioned, choking back emotion.
OCT. 19, 1989: 'A VIOLENT DEATH'
A brother and sister found her body at the bank of the lake, according to the Waco Citizen. The two originally went down there to go fishing when they spotted her lying lifeless under some trees about 30 feet away from the nearest road, the Citizen wrote.
At the time, Justice of the Peace Alan Mayfield said Finch was found fully clothed, but he also described the scene as “bloody,” the Citizen wrote.
“She was clearly murdered and it was apparently a violent death,” Mayfield told the Citizen at the time. “The body had been there some time, but I don’t have a time for the death.”
Alston added that her bike was found days later in a creek near the area where her body was found.
Finch’s body was then taken to Dallas by the Waco Mortician Service. An autopsy determined her cause of death was from the multiple stab wounds found all over her body.
Mayfield also told the Citizen then that he couldn’t tell if Finch was sexually molested. Alston did confirm, however, a rape kit was conducted, but because of “standard procedure in an autopsy, especially with a female under these types of circumstances."
: 'YOU ONLY NEED A STAIN'
When asked about Finch's rape kit results, Alston refused to give any information about it because the investigation is still ongoing.
He did confirm, however, there was DNA taken from the scene back then and that they recently sent samples in to DPS' Crime Lab in Waco, as well as the FBI.
"You know, the only thing new that's going on with this case is the DNA work," Alston explained. "That's the main thing going on."
Alston said he decided to revisit Finch's case because of how far DNA testing has come.
"I looked at this case and knew that there was a lot of stuff there that could possibly contain some DNA evidence, which may lead us to a suspect," he said, looking over the two big binders full of information on Finch's case.
According to Brent Watson, the DNA section supervisor and technical leader at DPS' crime lab in Waco, technology has advanced to the point where forensic scientists don't need "high quality" samples or nearly as big of samples like back in the day.
"You only need a stain that's a fraction of a blood drop and then to be even more sensitive just by touching certain items or having contact with certain items," Watson said.
He said the way his scientists look at DNA is usually through the form of stains like blood stains, semen stains, saliva stains or even skin cells.
In Finch's case, it is unclear what DNA is being tested, but Alston said there's a lot of evidence being looked at.
"We're testing clothing, we're testing all kinds of things in regards on this case right here that were found with her," Alston said.
When asked about Finch's case in particular, Watson repeated what Alston said; that he couldn't give details because of the ongoing investigation.
“There are some cases you don’t forget,” Watson said, however, as he nodded slowly, let out a breath and looked down at the floor.
But even if both Alston and Watson can't disclose any information about the tests, both are hopeful.
"I have some thoughts of where it might be going and leading to, but I can't do anything with that till I have something else to go with," Alston said.
1992: AN ARREST
A couple years after Finch's murder, one arrest was made in 1992, according to Cierra Shipley, the spokeswoman for Waco PD.
"At that point, once they made the arrest, they basically cleared [Finch's] case by arrest," Alston said.
The only problem, however, was that the man's arrest was based on circumstantial evidence, Alston added. During an interview with 6 News, Alston didn't disclose what evidence led to his arrest.
Because the evidence was circumstantial, the man never saw his day in court. He was eventually let go, he said.
"So, the case sat there after that," Alston said. "There wasn't really anything else done on it."
That was the only arrest made in Finch's murder case, Alston said. Now, decades later, they still don't have a suspect and the case remains unsolved.
Newspaper clippings of Sheila Finch murder
TODAY: 'WE WANT TO BRING CLOSURE... JUSTICE'
Today, none of Finch's immediate family is alive, except her mother. However, her mother is homeless and difficult to contact, Alston said. Still, Alston remains hopeful Waco PD will solve the case.
"We want to bring closure to the family, justice for the victim," Alston said.
After sharing Finch's story, Alston has a message he wants to give the public:
"If anybody knows anything about it, if they know who the killer is, if they had a conversation with a killer and they admitted to it, somebody talked to them about it that they did it, I'd like to talk to them," Alston said hopeful. "If they know anything about it, I'd like to talk to you."
If you know anything that may help lead Alston to an arrest in Finch's murder case, contact the Waco PD at (254) 750-7500 or email Alston at firstname.lastname@example.org.
KCEN Reporter Baylee Bates contributed to this report. Watch her full video on Finch's cold case on kcentv.com or our YouTube channel.
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