Updated: August 23, 2013 12:19PM
LAPORTE, IND. — Rayna Rison’s homicide went unsolved for 20 years after her body was discovered in a LaPorte County pond, but officials say a statement that came several years ago finally helped lead them to the man who they say killed her.
Police arrested James L. Tibbs, 38, of LaPorte, Friday morning during a traffic stop with an arrest warrant charging him with murdering Rison, who was then 16 years old.
Tibbs, who pleaded not guilty during his arraignment Friday morning, was ordered held without bond.
The arrest is the first public movement in more than a decade in the cold case, which started when Rayna’s father, Ben Rison, reported her missing on March 26, 1993, after she didn’t come home from her part-time job at the Pine Lake Animal Hospital.
The case caught national attention, including an episode on “America’s Most Wanted,” and her body was discovered in April 1993 by two fishermen in a small pond along Range Road in Springfield Township.
The cause of death was ruled asphyxiation, but it was unclear at first whether she drowned or was killed. Another autopsy eventually ruled her death a homicide, however, and her brother-in-law was charged five years after her death with killing her. The charges were dismissed after he spent 15 months in prison, and Ben Rison said years later that he didn’t believe the brother-in-law committed the crime.
When reached Friday morning, Ben Rison said he knew nothing other than that an arrest had been made and declined comment because his family is still trying to process the news.
Tibbs’ arrest came after more than five years of investigation work by Indiana State Police Sgt. Al Williamson and LaPorte Police Detective Brett Airy.
LaPorte County Prosecutor Robert Szilagyi said that the arrest came after a lot of hard work by his office and the two police officers, who had to review evidence and testimony from more than a decade ago. In some cases, such as with vehicles, the evidence no longer existed, he said.
“Because this is such an odd case, it just means we got a couple of lucky breaks after this long period of time,” he said. “State police and LaPorte police have done a lot in working with my deputy prosecutor to get to this point.”
Szilagyi said he was not sure how long Tibbs has been a suspect but that it happened after officials got a tip several years ago.