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  • Police sketches of killer

Family haunted by unsolved Sacramento random killing

Published: Monday, Apr. 22, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Apr. 22, 2013 - 10:01 am

Gregg Withrow envisions one day standing before a judge and describing the destruction caused by his mother's killer.

He will bring all his medications, lay them before the judge and, he hopes, finally be rid of all the "antidepressants and weird pills" he's relied on to help him cope.

"Hopefully I can get my life back," said Withrow, 49. "Maybe get some of my friends back, maybe help my marriage a little bit."

Whether that day will ever come remains uncertain. In the meantime, Withrow will recognize the seventh anniversary of the death of his mother, 67-year-old Line Withrow, and wait for the call Sacramento police Sgt. Bob McCloskey so longs to make: "We've got the guy."

"This is one of those career cases you'll always remember and you always want to solve," said McCloskey, who keeps Line Withrow's photo pinned to his office wall. "That's one of my goals before I retire: Make sure Bob (Line's husband) and Gregg get some justice for what happened.

"Unfortunately, we're just running out of leads."

Sunday will mark the seventh anniversary of Line Withrow's violent stabbing, which ultimately led to her death.

The afternoon of the crime, the retired occupational therapist had done a little shopping before taking light rail to her east Sacramento neighborhood. From the 39th Street station, she walked toward home.

Just before 3:30 p.m. a car pulled up alongside her. The driver ran up, struggled for her purse and then stabbed her repeatedly with a large knife. He drove away with $15.

Withrow died two days later. Her killer remains unknown.

Sacramento police soon linked Withrow's stabbing to three other robberies. The series showed an escalation: The robber merely pushed the first victim. He put a knife to the second's throat, and stabbed the third even when the man cooperated. Less than 12 hours later, he assaulted Withrow. All four robberies occurred in the span of three days; the first three happened in midtown or downtown.

Despite scouring crime reports, detectives did not link any other incidents to the series. They thought the sudden stop in activity possibly meant the assailant had been arrested, but reviews of arrest records turned up no leads.

It is possible the killer is dead – McCloskey said detectives and a retired FBI profiler theorized that the killer was a drug addict, possibly robbing to feed his habit.

It is also possible that the killer lives out of the area: Police recovered a briefcase stolen in the third robbery near a hotel in West Sacramento. But hotel surveillance video and business logs revealed nothing.

Evidence found on the briefcase allowed police to develop a partial DNA profile of the killer. That profile has been uploaded into state and national databases, but so far there have been no hits.

Otherwise, police are left only with a description and two sketches by a forensic artist. In 2006, the robber was described as an Asian man, 20 to 25 years old and 5 feet, 10 inches to 6 feet tall. He had a thin build with spiked hair on top and shaved sides.

He drove a late 1990s to early 2000s model Honda Accord. It was dark green or black and had four doors.

Gregg Withrow said his mother was a kind, giving woman who would have walked the robber to the bank if he had simply asked for money.

"He could've got more than $15 out of my mom if he went about it the right way," said Withrow, who lives south of Reno. "It was only four houses away from home. She would have made him dinner. … That's the kind of person my mom was."

Withrow said his older brother, who turned 44 the day of the stabbing, no longer celebrates his birthday. As for Withrow, he said he's been devastated by the loss.

"It's taken a toll," he said, weeping. "I'm not the same person I used to be."

He checks in regularly with McCloskey, who rarely has developments to report. But Line Withrow is never far from his mind. Just a few feet from the woman's picture, the sergeant has several cards from her widower pinned to his bulletin board. He usually gets one around the holidays or this time of year, when the anniversary approaches.

"I keep 'em," he said of the cards. "It kills me, but I keep 'em."

Gregg Withrow said that with McCloskey on the case, he holds hope that his dreamed day in court will become a reality.

"I'm not very fond of police and he has proven me wrong," he said. "I admire that man with all my heart."

He said that when his mother died, three of her organs were donated. He hopes to one day meet those recipients.

It is the one part of her, he said, that lives on.

$50,000 REWARD

A $50,000 reward remains available for anyone with information that leads to the arrest and conviction of Line Withrow's killer. Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Alert at (916) 443-HELP.

Call The Bee's Kim Minugh, (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter @kim_minugh.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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