I-TEAM: Could a jailhouse letter be one of the keys to solving the Tiffany Nelson case?

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Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

Tiffany Nelson went missing 25 years ago. Her body was found 14 years later in a wooded area in Burke County. Still, there have been no arrests in her case. (Source: WRDW)

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- It's been 25 years since 9-year-old Tiffany Nelson went missing. They found her remains but never her killer.

Last week our I-Team showed you new information we uncovered.

Not long before he died, Tiffany's brother told his aunt and investigators he thought Tiffany's murder could be connected to his past.

We've uncovered a few more clues making that theory seem credible. But we also uncovered some roadblocks standing in the way of solving this case.

Tiffany disappeared in broad daylight in 1994. But long before her face was splashed across televisions from Oregon to Florida and before military police combed the woods nearby with search dogs, her family pleaded with police the day she disappeared.

“We called 911, we called the police, and they were like well, ‘We can't put her as a missing person. We don't have that time. You've gotta look for her,’” Tiffany’s cousin, Tracy Adams, said.

They told the family they couldn't help them until 24 hours had passed -- even as darkness fell and even though Tiffany was perfectly happy and showed no signs of being a runaway.

“This is a 9-year-old,” Adams said. ”Where's a 9-year-old going to go who doesn't have anything? Why do we have to wait so long? Why do we have to wait?”

Her family searched all night for her, asking anyone and everyone what they had seen.

“Early that morning, probably 10 or 11 they saw her putting air in the tire,” Adams said. “At the service station, someone said they saw her talking to one of Tyrone's friends.”

Tyrone, Tiffany's brother, was her protector after their mom passed. Tiffany was the person he cared about most. He gave her the Air Jordan shoes her killer kidnapped her, killed her, and buried her in.

“I want to know who did it, and I want to know why,” Adams said. “That is really what I want to know. That would be closure for me.”

We uncovered a jailhouse letter -- another clue Tiffany's killer could have acted out of retaliation against the girl's brother.

It reads: “He told me about a little girl he killed and threw her body in some woods in Burke County for a man he was selling dope for and got paid a lot of money. Cause her brother owed the man money for a lot of dope. He says the man is in federal prison now."

But here's a big problem we've found: the 911 tape, the letter, and a few other leads we can't mention, are scattered among three different case files within three different agencies.

We have spoken with investigators past and present working on the case who admit, there is evidence they have not been privy to.

It's like trying to solve a 100 piece puzzle, and each agency only has 30 puzzle pieces. We asked the GBI about it when we shared new information we uncovered with them.

“It’s a communication issue,” Pat Morgan with GBI said.

It doesn't become easier when you're dealing with generations of communication issues and a case 25 years old.

In 1994, when this was a missing persons case, the Augusta Police Department and the Richmond County Sheriff's Office investigated.

Fast forward to 2005 when hunters discovered Tiffany's bones in Burke County. Sheriff Greg Coursey was in charge at the time. He called in the GBI to help. Meanwhile, Richmond County still had a vested interest. So they were still investigating, too. Now a different Burke County sheriff, Alfonzo Williams, is in charge and he doesn't typically call in the GBI to help. So now, you have three case files and no one agency with a full picture.

“But now with this new information and new sheriff's administration, it's just a matter of communicating and letting everybody know, and that's why we need to all meet in a group and determine how we're going to go forward with the investigation,” Morgan said.

Investigators tell me they recovered some evidence at the shallow grave back in 2005.

They don't want to say what specifically, but they're hoping to retest it at the GBI lab and see if they find a match with new technology. Now that it's been so many years and more people have come and gone.

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