Key piece of evidence could eventually lead investigators to killer in unsolved murder of UC student from 1977

Nancy Theobald’s brutal death considered a cold case decades later

The murder of Nancy Theobald remains unsolved more than 30 years later.

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A key piece of evidence left behind by a killer could ultimately help investigators close a cold case: the unsolved murder of Nancy Theobald.

Although Theobald’s case has gone cold, investigators believe that the right tip, or the right technology, could heat it back up.

Theobald’s loved ones also have faith the killer will be caught. They have been holding on to hope that one critical clue could connect the pieces of the puzzle.

Theobald’s murder remains an unsolved mystery more than 40 years after her disappearance and brutal death.

In the eyes of those who loved her, the 18-year-old soared high above expectations. Theobald, a straight-A University of Cincinnati student, was studying finance and was described as clever and witty.

Joseph Theobald, one of Nancy Theobald’s five siblings, spoke about his sister’s daring dreams and amazing accomplishments via video chat from his home in Florida.

“Nancy was brilliant, more brilliant than anyone I’ve ever met, you know, and very driven. There was no doubt what an incredible life she was going to make for herself," Joseph said. ”We always wonder about what she would’ve been like and how she would’ve interacted with our children and what kind of children she would’ve had, and all those dreams that she had for herself, that we had for her, those are gone.”

Enquirer shares details following Theobald's disappearance.
Enquirer shares details following Theobald's disappearance. (Source: Cincinnati Enquirer archives)

For them, Theobald now lives on only in fading photos and faint memories.

“I see Nancy’s face when I look in the face of my two girls, and my youngest who I named after her," Joseph said.

Investigators, like retired Butler County Cold Case Homicide Detective Frank Smith, remain haunted by the horrific details of Theobald’s case.

“A University of Cincinnati student working at Arby’s down in Clifton left her job and was gone forever," Smith said. "She was found a few months later up here in Butler County, strangled to death, assaulted. Still yet, the investigators who arrived at that scene that morning, they still remember how that girl looked.”

After leaving work on November 16, 1977, investigators believe Theobald started the about two-mile walk to the apartment she shared with two of her siblings. However, they suspect somewhere along the way, someone abducted her.

Her frozen body, investigators said, was later found by a farmer in a Butler County creek bed.

“It was a gruesome scene. Whoever had abducted her, they beat her. They raped her, and they threw her in a creek like garbage," Joseph said. “Her hands were bound behind her back. There was a knotted clothes line around her neck."

Joseph, who is an insurance investigator, says he has done his own research on his sister’s case. The autopsy report, he said, shows there is DNA evidence: the killer’s blood, which was discovered on Theobald’s sweater.

Detectives told Joseph that the DNA has been re-submitted recently to be re-tested with the latest technology, but so far, it has not matched with anyone in the pool of suspects.

“Some [suspects] that can’t account for their whereabouts, and some of those were turned in by people who saw something and said something," Joseph said.

All it takes, Smith says, is for one person, perhaps an inmate, to come forward with what they know.

“Somebody still knows something, and it could be a former inmate who maybe had a celly [cellmate] that said ‘hey I did this,' anything like that," Smith said.

Joseph was only 11-years-old when he lost Theobald. Although he feels cheated out of time with his sister, he said what keeps him going is his belief that one day, they will all be together once more.

“I hope that one day they can solve it, and we can stop a killer," Joseph said. “I think honoring Nancy is to live our life and know that I’m going to see her again.”

Theobald’s loved ones and detectives both believe that whoever took her life was someone she would have considered a stranger. They believe the killer may have been watching her and knew where she would be and when.

Although several other young women were murdered in a similar fashion around the same time as Theobald, investigators have never officially connected Theobald’s case to any of them.

If you have any information on Theobald’s case, call police.

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