Tina McMenamin, an 18-year-old UNL freshman, was stabbed and sexually assaulted in her apartment on July 25, 1995.
Gregory Gabel, a mentally ill Lincoln man, was arrested in the homicide and has always been the prime suspect, an investigator said, even after pivotal DNA evidence failed to link him to the crime scene. Gabel has a computerlike memory for numbers and facts and a history of following women at businesses and public events, retired investigator Rich Doetker said in 2005.
McMenamin was killed in the minutes before she was due at work at Godfather’s Pizza at 5:30 p.m. that night in 1995. Roommate Sarah Bognich found her friend in a pool of blood that night.
“The apartment was ransacked. I walked past the bedroom a couple of times before noticing her on the floor. My life changed after that. I tried to go back (to college), and I couldn’t ever finish.”
A single hair clutched in McMenamin’s hand led police to Gabel. It matched his DNA, a one-in-1,049 chance. Circumstantial evidence also linked Gabel to the apartment building. And a man matching Gabel’s description was seen fleeing the crime scene, Amberwood Apartments, 4600 Briarpark Drive.
That night, Gabel was a block away at a Sonic Drive-In. He was there every Tuesday night, cleaning up in exchange for food. And Gabel had earlier convictions for third-degree sexual assault and public indecency. Police arrested him a year after the crime.
But two years later, when a different DNA test proved the hair was not Gabel’s, he was released. That hair, however, didn’t necessarily belong to the killer, Doetker said. The investigator also has suspicions about the validity of the second DNA test, conducted in a Pennsylvania lab.
“There were questions that came up: Was it the right hair? The same hair?” he said.
Murder charges were dropped against Gabel with the hope that additional evidence would be found to re-arrest him, Doetker said. If the case went to trial and Gabel was found innocent, Doetker added, he could not be retried if new evidence came to light.
Mary Hepburn-O’Shea, who has worked in the mental health field in Lincoln for decades and has known Gabel for many of those years, said in 2005 that the man lost two years in jail for something he didn’t do.
Hepburn-O’Shea runs downtown O.U.R. Homes, the city’s largest provider for developmentally disabled people that also houses people with mental illnesses. Gabel lives and works there. “He’s a weird kid,” she said. “He’s not ever a violent kid.”
Then-Assistant Police Chief Jim Peschong, speaking in 2005, added that you can’t try a case on personal beliefs and supposition. Peschong said he personally believes there is a suspect in the crime, but he declined naming anyone.