NEW PORT RICHEY — Susan Spencer is amazed that a simple blanket helped unravel a decades old Pasco County cold case involving Amy Rose Hurst.
“Two things struck me about this case,” Spencer, a CBS News correspondent, said. “One was the fact that a lowly afghan, a blanket, could in the end be so pivotal in solving Amy Hurst’s murder. We’re so used to high-tech, crime-solving techniques that you forget every now and then it’s something that’s just meaningful to a family, something small that makes the difference.
“They might have figured it out otherwise, but the fact that the whole Amy Hurst case ends up relying on that one piece of evidence, I just thought it was kind of interesting.”
During an hour-long episode of 48 Hours, the weekly CBS crime show, Spencer delves into the topic from early into the cold-case investigation and through the April 2013 trial in which Amy Hurst’s husband, William Hurst, was convicted of her murder.
The episode airs Saturday at 10 p.m.
The show also reports on the April 1982 disappearance of Amy Huggy, a 16-year-old who left her husband in Chicago to live with her grandparents in Holiday. She went to a Clearwater party and after letting her grandparents know she was getting a ride home with a friend, she vanished.
Hurst’s remains, discovered in Manatee County, were initially thought to be those of Huggy.
Hurst disappeared in 1982 not long after she and William Hurst moved into their New Port Richey home with her two children. She was 29 at the time.
Her remains were found on Sept. 5, 1982, by fishermen as her body floated in the Gulf of Mexico about 27 miles from shore, near the Sunshine Skyway.
She was wrapped in a green bedspread and a beige, brown and orange afghan. There was a rope wrapped around the remains and tied to a concrete block. There were signs of blunt-force trauma to her head.
Amy Hurst was a Jane Doe from the time her body was found in Sept. 1982 until a DNA match with her son was registered July 19, 2011.
Jeff Earley, Amy Hurst’s son, had scoured the Internet viewing photos and descriptions of missing persons and spotted the afghan his grandmother made for his mother as well as his mother’s sister.
That started the process of identifying his mom’s remains.
Another nuance of the case revolved around how evidence was gathered against William Hurst, who fled to Kentucky after he was named a suspect in his wife’s disappearance.
“The other thing that was interesting to me was Amy Hurst’s murderer was basically turned in by one of his good friends,” Spencer said. “This was in a small town in backwoods Kentucky, where everybody knows everybody and I thought it took a lot for that guy to do what he did. He wore a wire and he did exactly what he thought was right and I really admired him for it.”
The secretly recorded conversation between William Hurst and a friend was played for jurors during the trial.
“I thought I got away with it but my past has caught up to me,” Hurst said in the recording
In July 2011, Pasco County Sheriff’s Office Detective Lisa Schoneman traveled to Dawson Springs, Ky., where she interviewed William Hurst about his wife’s disappearance. He said he knew nothing.
“I came home from work and she was gone,” Hurst told Schoneman.
During the trial, William Hurst and his lawyers contend there was no intentional killing of his wife. Instead, the pair were arguing and as she was lying on the couch and he was standing, she kicked at him.
She missed and fell from the couch and then hit her head on the floor, which knocked her unconscious.
Although Hurst never testified, his lawyer called it a case of “a tragic accident and a “really stupid response” by his client.”
A medical examiner testified Amy Hurst suffered at least three blows to her head, two in the back and one on the left side. Her cause of death, though, was drowning.
The jury of six men and six women took about 21/2 hours to find William Hurst guilty.
Hurst, 62, is serving his life sentence at Gulf Correctional Institute in Wewahitchka.
“It’s finally over,” Earley said after the trial last April. “We did our sentence for 30 years, so he gets to do his now. Like my aunt said: when he rots in his jail cell and he sleeps every night, he can think about what he did. (I) hope it wears on him a little bit. He can do his time now and we can move on with our lives.”
Amy Hurst’s remains were laid to rest Sept. 11, 2011. Her family gathered at Elizabeth Lake near their hometown of Pontiac, Mich., and placed the box containing her ashes into the water.
The box floated several minutes before sinking to the bottom.