By Dan Slepian, Dateline Producer
The email arrived on a Sunday morning, at 4:50 a.m.
I'm writing to you about a 25-year-old cold case from 1981 in which a woman named Barbara L. Winn was shot in the chest with a .38 Special after a violent fight.
A woman named Patty Bruce was writing about her sister-in-law, Barbara Winn, whose death in 1981 had been ruled a suicide.
The e-mail claimed Barbara had not killed herself, but that Barbara was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Aaron "Bubbie" Foster. The e-mail revealed that Foster was currently a free man, working for the St. Paul Police Department.
We receive many e-mails alleging miscarriages of justice, but there was something about this one.
There was a sense of desperation and frustration, the sense that over the years there were cries for justice, but they had fallen on deaf ears. More than anything, it seemed this family simply wanted someone to listen.
The e-mail plea ended with this:
We want justice! We are convinced that both personal politics and a web of corruption have played a role in the miscarriage of justice concerning Barbara.
We wanted to hear their whole story, from the beginning.
So we set up a camera in a quiet place in Patty's house and left it there for a couple of months. We invited anyone in Barbara's family to speak privately to the camera whenever they wanted, about anything they wished. I spent dozens of hours screening those tapes, hearing those private words. To be sure, the raw emotion is heart wrenching: anger, frustration, bitterness.
Watch Barbara Winn's son, Tyronne, sing a song for his mother.
My own research began with the day of Barbara's death. Her kids recalled that nightmarish May night back in 1981 as though it was yesterday. They all remember hearing their mother and her boyfriend, "Bubbie" Foster, arguing. There was the sound of glass breaking, and then a gunshot. The three of them ran to her room, they said, and saw Foster running out.
Tyronne, who was just 12 years old then, remembers his mother's last words were "Oh Bubbie, that hurt."
I would learn that Foster told police that Barbara had shot herself, and that her dying declaration had been for him to "get rid of the gun." That's why, he says, he took the gun from the house, drove away in Barbara's car, and tossed it out the window. Authorities believed Foster, and ruled Barbara had taken her own life.
Barbara's kids say he was lying, that he murdered their mother and covered it up. They also claim it's Foster's connection to his longtime friend, St. Paul's former police chief Bill Finney, that somehow sheltered Foster from punishment. Serious allegations, to be sure, and ones that Bill Finney adamantly denies.
Getting at the heart of this story was a tall order. It's an old crime, Foster has repeatedly denied he killed Barbara, and he's already been looked at as a suspect.
As we looked into the story, it turned out the authorities in Minnesota had decided to take a second look at the case, too. The current sheriff had asked one of his veteran investigators, Bill Snyder, to reinvestigate it. Not knowing where his investigation would lead, I asked if we could follow Snyder as he looked for new clues and new witnesses. They agreed.
Over many weeks, using a small, handheld camera, I shadowed Snyder as he dug for answers.
But this story became more than an investigation into a nearly 30-year-old cold case.
Watching those private tapes recorded in Patty's house, what struck me the most was the incredible love and respect Barbara Winn's family and friends still have her, all these years later. They are the ones who really tell this story.
A story that began with an email to a stranger.