As 9-year-old Beth Ringheim struggled to make sense of the gruesome murder scene in her father's Dublin home, she formed a terrifying question: Who would do such a thing? Nearly three decades later, neither she -- nor Alameda County Sheriff's Office homicide detectives -- have any idea.
Her father, Harve Ringheim, a Pleasant Hill veterinarian, had been stabbed in the head, heart and neck. Her stepmother, Keiko, tightly bound with duct tape, was facedown in bucket of water. She had been strangled. But an investigation into the Jan. 24, 1986, incident found no fingerprints and no signs of forced entry, and no motive emerged as months, years and eventually decades passed by.
 The Alameda County coroner removes the bodies of Harve and Keiko Ringheim, who were killed in their Dublin, Calif., home on Jan. 24, 1986.
The Alameda County coroner removes the bodies of Harve and Keiko Ringheim, who were killed in their Dublin, Calif., home on Jan. 24, 1986. (Michael Macor / Oakland Tribune)
"No father and no closure is a feeling I can't describe," said Ringheim, 38, a marriage and family therapist still looking for answers.
The desire to provide that closure -- and to capture killers -- is why police departments around the Bay Area and across the country keep files on "cold cases," unsolved crimes that are no longer actively investigated but that detectives just can't bear to close.
As time passes and memories fade, most will never be solved. But hope endures for a deathbed confession or a conscience-stricken witness -- and such technological advances as DNA analysis sometimes give old cases new life.
"You never let go of the feeling that you owe it to the victims and their family to bring suspects to justice," Hayward homicide detective Zach Hoyer said.
This newspaper asked law enforcement agencies across the region for information on their oldest open homicide cases, and 56 responded with at least one name. The cases range from the notorious -- the 1950s car-bombing of a San Mateo County dog-race magnate, thought to be linked to the mob -- to the heart-wrenching but little noticed, like the 1965 kidnapping and stabbing of a 7-year-old Berkeley girl whose body was found under a woodpile in a metal supply company yard. But 11 departments said they don't have any cold cases, not because they've solved every murder but because they focus their resources on active investigations far more likely to lead to resolution.
In San Jose, the budget-strapped department has eliminated its cold-case team, Sgt. Heather Randol said. Still, it has a 52-year-old cold case: the Feb. 26, 1962, beating of 30-year-old Maria Ventura. A passing motorist found her body, clad only in a pair of stockings, in a lot at Paula and Race streets just south of Interstate 280. Detectives at the time believed Ventura was killed at another site and dumped at the lot, where she was run over by the killer's car. No suspect was ever identified, and no one in today's homicide unit has spent any significant time with the case.
By contrast, the file of Castro Valley's 1938 homicide of a Jane Doe has been checked out of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office evidence room countless times -- sometimes for actual developments in the case, such as a man's 1944 confession to shooting her (his story didn't pan out). Most recently, in 2001, an investigator had the case notes transcribed because the paperwork was deteriorating.
Detective Jason Hawks noticed the homicide date on her file on the first day he took over the department's Cold Case Unit in July, and he was curious enough to open it up. The file contained faded newspaper clippings from when the woman's badly decomposed body, unearthed from a shallow grave by wild animals, was discovered by a dentist and his wife picnicking in Castro Valley's Redwood Canyon.
A photograph from a 1952 homicide cold case is displayed at the San Mateo Police Department headquarters in San Mateo, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014.
A photograph from a 1952 homicide cold case is displayed at the San Mateo Police Department headquarters in San Mateo, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014. Thomas Keen, a national dog track owner, was killed by a car bomb (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)
"I mean, 1938. It's kind of unbelievable," he said. "I'm trying to think of how old my grandmother would be back then.
"We never had a real suspect with this one and with these ancient cold cases, with no biological evidence on file, there's not much left to go on."
It's rare in such an old case for there to be any evidence that can benefit from modern DNA analysis.
The oldest cold case in the Bay Area is the 1924 San Francisco robbery and strangulation of Angelo Domenichini, a 69-year-old retired produce merchant who loved to flash his cash and jewels.
Sometimes cases remain open because investigators think they know what happened -- if only they could get the evidence.
From right, Wendy Rose, who is the daughter of cold case victim Clara Rose, 31, found fatally shot in her Los Gatos home on Jan. 19, 1979, sits beside her
From right, Wendy Rose, who is the daughter of cold case victim Clara Rose, 31, found fatally shot in her Los Gatos home on Jan. 19, 1979, sits beside her daughter, Jennifer Pico, and her granddaughter, Maya, as they look at a picture of her. (Courtesy of family). (Submitted)
That's the situation with Oakland's oldest case, the 1964 deaths of Betty Martin, 43, and her daughter, Carolyn, 18, found hog-tied and strangled inside their Crocker Highlands house. Carolyn was raped. The prime suspect -- an acquaintance of Carolyn's -- is dead.
San Mateo's oldest case is the 1952 dynamite car-bombing of Tom Keen, who built the country's first dog-racing track in Belmont in the late 1930s. Keen also invented a device to show the odds and projected payoff before a race, and police at the time were convinced he was targeted by Mafia gangsters because he resisted pressure to rig the device in their favor. Tellingly, Keen had connections to Al Capone, on whose property outside Chicago he helped build a dog-racing track.
But police could never pinpoint suspects.
"Anything that's been kept quiet for more than 50, 60 years likely involves the Mafia, and typically people don't talk when the mob is involved," said Officer Anthony Riccardi. "Ever."
Concord police have a detailed theory behind their oldest case, the arson that killed five Walker siblings on Sept. 8, 1968.
Their lone suspect, Concord native John Sapp, was 15 at the time and had just been released from juvenile hall. Police believe his target was the man who incarcerated him, a Contra Costa Superior Court judge who lived a few doors down from the Walkers in nearby Clayton, Concord police Detective Sgt. Steve Chiabotti said.
At least the suspect is not at large; Sapp is on death row for three other murders. But Carolyn Walker Shaw, the only child to survive the fire that broke out as she and her siblings slept, still worries.
"There's always been fear of going public," said Shaw, 52. "It's like, who did it? Are they still around and would they want to harm us again?"
The Bay Area cases may be frozen, but for many survivors, the memories burn as brightly as they ever did.
"Tonight I'm sleepless on yet another anniversary of my mother's murder, still waiting for justice to be served," Wendy Rose wrote earlier this year on a Facebook page she set up for her mother, marking the 35th anniversary of the day -- Jan. 19, 1979 -- that Clara Rose, 31, was found shot in the Los Gatos townhome where she lived with her two children and fiance.
Rose set up the page hoping someone, anyone, who knows something will step forward.
"Unless something new breaks or someone confesses, I fear Mother's case will remain frozen forever," she wrote.
As long as witnesses are alive and technology improves, investigators say there is still a chance.
"Even if it takes years ... the most rewarding aspect of this job is making an arrest and sharing the news with the victim's family," Hoyer said.
It happens. Last year the Alameda County Sheriff's Office solved the Dec. 28, 1990, case of Stephen Rudiger, 43, who was found stabbed to death at an East Bay Regional Parks on Dec. 28, 1990.
The case was cold until 2010, when authorities said they received a tip that Rudiger was killed in his Castro Valley home, not in the park. By combining old and new evidence with the power of DNA technology, investigators were able to link the slaying to his ex-wife, Cheryl Ann Drace, 58, of San Leandro, and her new husband, William Joseph DeVincenzi, 52, who were later charged with murder.
The case of Harve Ringheim and his wife warmed up in 2011 after detectives ran new DNA samples that proved at least two men were involved in the slayings, which police believe were murder for hire. The DNA samples were not complete enough for identification or to run through DNA databases, but detectives say forensic technology improvements mean they might be able to one day.
"Somebody out there knows everything," said Beth Ringheim, who is grateful for the work investigators are doing. But she finds it hard to be optimistic. "The cemetery is all we have, no answers, (and I'm) losing hope."
Contact Natalie Neysa Alund at 510-293-2469. Follow her at