Fresh eyes taking look at unsolved 1997 murder of Laney Gwinner

Mason teacher, student researching Butler County cold case
Published: Mar. 21, 2019 at 10:56 PM EDT
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MASON, OH (FOX19) - More than 20 years after a Butler County woman was murdered, two researchers are taking a closer look at the unsolved case.

Alana “Laney” Gwinner’s 1997 disappearance and death captured the attention of communities near and far. Decades later, it is now the focus of a Mason High School cold case project.

Forensic Science teacher Randy Hubbard and junior Evan Fletcher have been have been staying after school for hours to interview witnesses, piece together timelines and talk to investigators about what happened to Gwinner the day she disappeared in December 1997.

“A lot of just trying to figure out what’s the truth,” said Fletcher. “I can’t even imagine what it’s like having someone murdered and then you don’t know who did it."

They started the project by outlining the facts and retracing Gwinner’s steps.

“It started out as giving Evan and myself actually kind of a real world experience with it, and now it’s turned into we want to help," said Hubbard. "We want to try to get that information back out.”

Police said that the 23-year-old went to the Gilmore Lanes bowling alley in Fairfield with a friend that night. She left sometime around 1 a.m. in her 1993 Honda Del Sol to go to her boyfriend’s house, but police said she never made it there. For a month, she was missing.

“One individual witnessed her talking to somebody outside several hours before she left (the bowling alley), and nobody else had mentioned that," said Hubbard.

In January 1998, while investigators were searching the Ohio River for unrelated reasons, they came across Gwinner’s body in Warsaw, Ky. Her body was more than 60 miles from where she was last seen. Gwinner’s car, police said, has never been recovered.

As part of their work, Hubbard and Fletcher have been researching the river.

“We started from where she was found and worked backwards, two hours, four hours, eight hours, and so forth, to see where she possibly could’ve been pushed out and where the car might be in the river," said Hubbard.

Gwinner’s close friend Joy Fry said she is incredibly grateful for Hubbard and Fletcher’s work. Even if their project does not lead to a big break in the case, Fry believes it is shining a spotlight on Gwinner.

“Laney was vibrant, fun, classy, sassy," said Fry. "I think it’s awesome. The more people that look into it, is the higher chance more information will come out.”

Gwinner would have turned 45 years old this week. Her loved ones remain hopeful that maybe by her next birthday, they will get the answers they have been longing for all these years.

“Little bit of closure and maybe a sense of peace and justice for her,” said Fry. "It would be a pretty indescribable feeling.”

Fletcher said he is planning to pursue a career in forensic science after high school.

Hubbard is launching a cold case class at the high school that will allow students to research and focus on missing people and murders.

If you have any information on Laney Gwinner’s murder, call police.

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