This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.
As a Marine recruiter stationed in Huntington Beach, California, Ronald Parkhurst was respected and well-mannered. His clothes were always formal with no tears or holes.
Ron Parkhurst carried himself in a professional way. But his alter ego Ronnie was another story; he loved to smile and crack jokes.
“When Ronnie was younger and would get in trouble he would always smile,” his sister Diane Garrett said.
Diane remembers her time growing up in Peoria, Illinois with Ronnie and her two other siblings Don and Tammy. “It just seemed like we were always together as kids,” she said. “We would always go through the woods to the trails.”
Remembering now is just as painful as 24 years ago when Ronnie’s body was found at Lake Mead in Nevada. He had left for Las Vegas on June 15, 1997, and, six days later, divers discovered his body.
He had been shot to death.
Ronnie grew up in Peoria, Illinois. He was a kind, funny, and charismatic person.
“Ronnie was a family man,” Don Parkhurst, his eldest brother, said. “He loved kids and had a way with them. My nephews would call him Superman Uncle.”
Ronnie began working as an airplane mechanic when he first joined the Marines. He spent twelve years serving his country before his death.
Growing up, Ronnie was around cars up and had such an affinity for them. His father was a drag racer, and it was something Ronnie and his siblings enjoyed. As his siblings grew older, they grew out of racing, but not Ronnie. Eventually, he would purchase a black Ford Mustang. Don jokingly referred to Ronnie’s car as “his baby.”
Just like most families, Ronnie’s would get together for the holidays. Diane recounts some of those holiday memories: “Probably the most we were together was the holidays. I just think when my grandparents were alive, we would pick on my grandmother and sing the song Grandma got run over by a Reindeer,” she said.
Ronnie’s siblings all described him similarly. He was a tall man with hazel eyes and a smile always on his face.
“Before he went into the Marines, Ronnie was very tall and lanky,” Diane said. “After being in the service, he started to bulk up.”
Before Ronnie went missing, he had driven his Mustang to Las Vegas. His family had no idea why he left.
“About two weeks, maybe a week and a half before Ronnie passed, my family and I were going to Colorado,” Diane said. “He would be on leave at the time and was going to meet us out there.”
Ronnie was set to have a recruitment appointment the day he left for Vegas. When he didn’t show up, the Marines reported him missing and notified the family.
Six days later, his body was found. He was wearing cut-off denim shorts and a t-shirt – clothes that he normally would never wear.
“Ron was the type of person that would wear nice shirts and pants,” Diane said. “Him wearing clothes that were ripped just always seemed odd to me.”
Ronnie’s body was flown home to Illinois where the family held a service for him.
“I remember being in disbelief,” his youngest sister Tammy Powers said. “I don’t think I can really process what happened.”
The police had no witnesses and no leads. The case was quickly classified as cold.
In the years since the murder, Ronnie’s parents died never knowing what really happened to their son. Diane has worked closely with the Las Vegas Police Department and has reached out to several reporters to continue to share what happened to her brother.
“Ron would want to be remembered as what my nephews called him: The Superman uncle,” Don said. “And being a Marine, he was proud of both those things.”
“Ronnie would want to be remembered as a good guy, as a fun guy,” Tammy said. “A good guy with fun memories. I want to hold onto the memories of when he was alive.”
A letter from Ronald’s sister on the 25th anniversary of his death.
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Ronald Parkhurst, please contact the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Cold Case Unit at (702) 828-3509.
Research & Impact
All families would have consistent communication with the investigating agency assigned to their loved one’s unsolved case in an ideal situation. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for many reasons. Most often, it’s simply the lack of manpower, funding, and the agency’s size. A lot goes into digitally archiving decades worth of paper case files and the technology can be expensive.
At Project: Cold Case, we work to educate surviving family members and the public about the many complexities that a family can face when working to advocate for their loved one. One tip we often share is that the family should reach out to the agency, especially if a substantial amount of time has elapsed since the homicide or the last communication. While many families wish that law enforcement would initiate contact, families need to continue to reach out periodically, introducing themselves to each detective that may come through the department, and make sure their loved one’s name is remembered in the office.
As far as other suggestions, consider asking specific questions, such as:
Is there a detective assigned to the case? If so, make sure you get their name, phone number, and email address.
When was the last time the case was reviewed? Ask if they would consider utilizing new technologies to retest evidence if there is any.
Can the family schedule a sit-down meeting with detectives? Many agencies would be more than happy to show the amount of work that has gone into the investigation.
Remember, if you have recently moved, changed phone numbers, or it has been a long time since you last spoke to the agency, reach out and update your contact information. If investigators still have outdated information, then there’s no way for them to reach out to you.
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If you have a loved one that is the victim of an unsolved homicide, please submit their case here for consideration in a future Cold Case Spotlight post.