A Convicted Murderer’s Reversal of Fortune
Oscar Bolin has been convicted of killing three young Florida women and sentenced to death — twice.
But Oscar Bolin could prove to be the first prisoner to have a proverbial “nine lives.” The defendant, tried separately for each killing, successfully appealed the guilty verdicts for each of the three murder trials. And three retrials also led the Florida Supreme Court to reverse those convictions.
Though a total of 72 jurors had found Oscar Bolin guilty in the past, the convicted killer was granted new trials in all three cases.
The first of the three trials was held in a New Port Richey, Fla., courtroom for victim Teri Lynn Matthews.
The Crimes of Oscar Bolin
On the morning of Dec. 5, 1986, the clothed body of 26-year-old Matthews was discovered wrapped in a sheet near railroad tracks in a rural area of Pasco County.
She had been stabbed in the neck and chest, and beaten repeatedly over the head. Despite the fact that it had not rained for several days, the victim and her clothing were reportedly wet. An autopsy later revealed the presence of semen in her vaginal area, although there was no specific evidence that Matthews had been sexually abused.
Authorities soon learned that the victim, who was employed by a bank, had worked until approximately 11:00 p.m. the previous evening in Tampa. After work, as she often did, Matthews had gone to visit her boyfriend, Gary McClelland. The couple went out to dinner and returned to the home McClelland shared with his parents.
Ultimately, at about 2:00 a.m., Matthews left Tampa and headed back to Pasco County, approximately 30 miles away, where she lived with her mother and stepfather. Usually, at that time of the morning, the drive would take 30 to 40 minutes.
Normally, Matthews would call her boyfriend when she got home to let him know that she had arrived safely. But this time, there was no call. McClelland finally phoned Matthews’ mother, who informed him that Teri had never returned.
The Disappearance Of Teri Lynn Matthews
McClelland got into his own car and started the drive to Pasco County, looking for traces of Matthews or her red Honda along the way.
For most of his journey, McClelland saw no sign of Teri Lynn Matthews. But as he passed a post office in Land O’Lakes, Florida, McClelland noticed what appeared to be Teri’s Honda in the parking lot. As McClelland approached the unattended automobile — its parking lights still on — he noticed pieces of mail strewn on the ground in the car’s immediate vicinity. They were addressed to Matthews and her parents.
Sometime later, police were able to identify a woman they believed to be Matthews from a frame of videotape stamped 2:48 a.m. from a security camera at the Land O’Lakes post office. Matthews and her parents maintained a post office box at the Land O’Lakes facility, and the young woman often stopped by on her way home from work to pick up the family’s mail.
But what had happened to Matthews between her arrival at the post office and the discovery of her body the next morning? For years, police were baffled. DNA testing on three semen stains found on the victim’s slacks had eliminated McClelland, Matthews’ boyfriend, as a suspect, and authorities had no other leads.
A Break In The Investigation
Then, in 1990, investigators got a break. A former Florida woman living in Ohio, who identified herself as Cheryl Coby, confided to her spouse that her former husband, Oscar Ray Bolin, had once confessed to her that he had killed Matthews. Coby’s second husband contacted authorities, who went to Ohio to interview Bolin’s ex-wife.
That interview led police to the most important witness in the case. According to Coby, Oscar Ray Bolin told her that his young half-brother, Phillip, helped him get rid of Matthews’ body after the killing. When he was questioned by authorities, Phillip Bolin, who was 13 in 1986, confirmed Coby’s story. That led to the arrest of Oscar Ray Bolin — who, at the time he was charged with the Matthews murder, was in an Ohio prison serving a 25- to 75-year sentence for kidnapping and raping a 20-year-old waitress.
The Previous Trials
The Matthews case is just the beginning of Bolin’s story. The investigation that resulted in Bolin’s indictment for Matthews’ killing also led to murder charges in two other 1986 deaths, both in Florida’s Hillsborough County.
On Jan. 25, 1986, 25-year-old Blanche Holley was discovered dead in an orange grove. On Nov. 5, 1986, 17-year-old Stephanie Collins disappeared after being seen last in a drugstore parking lot. Her remains were eventually discovered near a rural road one month later — coincidentally, the same day that Teri Lynn Matthews’ body was found in neighboring Pasco County.
Bolin was charged in 1990 with all three murders and underwent three trials, one for each victim. In each case, he was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for each of the three convictions.
In 1995, however, the Florida Supreme Court reversed all three convictions and ordered new trials. According to the high court, the prosecution and trial judge erred in allowing jurors to hear Cheryl Bolin Coby’s testimony, which was protected by Florida’s spousal privilege rules.
Even though the Bolins were now divorced, the justices found that the privilege still held, meaning conversations between a husband and wife are confidential.
Facing Seven Murder Trials
Oscar Bolin was tried three more times. Each time he was convicted. Each time he was sentenced to death.
And each of Bolin’s convictions was reversed by the Florida Supreme Court.
The high court again chided prosecutors for using Coby’s testimony. This time, the state had argued that a prison suicide attempt by Oscar Bolin — in which he had reportedly written a suicide note instructing authorities to talk to Cheryl Coby — amounted to evidence that the defendant was waiving his right to spousal privilege.
But the justices rejected that argument — and also found fault with a trial judge’s decision to limit the scope of defense voir dire regarding publicity about Bolin and his past legal problems.
At age 39, Oscar Bolin faced his seventh murder trial.
The Most Recent Trial
The mothers of all three of his alleged murder victims have sat together through each of his previous six trials and were together in court for the seventh.
Oscar Bolin has at least one staunch supporter of his own, however — his current wife, Rosalie. An investigator formerly married to a defense attorney, the former Rosalie Martinez first met the defendant in 1995 when she worked on his case before his second round of trials.
The couple were married by telephone in 1996, while Oscar Bolin was on death row. Now considered an integral part of his defense team, Rosalie Bolin professes to believe that her husband is completely innocent of the murders with which he’s been accused.
The Evidence Revealed
The Post Office
Like Matthews, Oscar Bolin and his then-wife, Cheryl, maintained a post office box at the Land O’Lakes post office facility. The Bolins’ box was no more than a couple of feet away from the one belonging to the victim and her family.
Cheryl Bolin, who was at that time a patient in Tampa General Hospital, had asked her husband to stop by the post office and pick up a Social Security check she was expecting to receive.
In fact, Bolin had visited his wife the day before, December 4, and she had chided him for not bringing the check in question. When the defendant visited his wife later the following day, he had the check.
When the body of Teri Lynn Matthews was first examined, authorities quickly saw that the young woman was wrapped in a single bedsheet. That sheet was later identified as one taken from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa.
At the time of the murder, the defendant’s wife was a patient at Tampa General Hospital — but, in the past, she had also been a patient at St. Joseph’s. And, as Cheryl Bolin later told authorities, she often took home various items with her after a hospital stay, including latex gloves and hospital blankets.
The sandy rural area, in which Teri Lynn Matthews’ body was discovered, was crisscrossed with vehicle tire tracks. Most of them were obviously old — but one set of tracks, according to crime scene technicians, appeared to be fresh. Those tracks suggested that a large vehicle had pulled into the area from an adjacent road, then backed out again and driven away.
The most striking feature of the tracks was that they seemed to be made by a large dual-wheel vehicle, such as an automobile wrecker, which has two wheels in the front but four wheels in the back. A tire expert later determined that at least one of the treads had been made by a Cooper-brand tire.
In December 1986, Oscar Bolin was working as a trainee for a wrecker company in Tampa. Normally, Bolin went out on assignments with an experienced driver — but when a call came in on the day of the murder regarding a stranded car in Pasco County, the defendant begged for a chance to take a wrecker out by himself.
Robert Kahles, the owner of the company, didn’t think he was ready, but Rosemary Kahles, Robert’s wife and co-owner of the firm, convinced her husband to give Bolin a chance. The defendant left for Pasco County on his first solo run.
The plan was for Oscar Bolin to return that afternoon, as soon as his run was finished. The Kahles heard from him once that afternoon, when he called to get clearance to accept a personal check from the person whose car was being towed. But after that — nothing. Finally the coupled closed their business for the day and headed home.
Sometime that night Rosemary Kahles was awakened by a CB radio next to her bed. It was Oscar Bolin — but there was so much static that it was hard to understand what the defendant was saying. Rosemary Kahles told Bolin to go to a pay phone and call her back, but he never did.
The next morning, the Kahles opened up their business as usual, but there was still no sign of Oscar Bolin or their wrecker. Finally, sometime mid morning, the defendant and vehicle showed up. Bolin’s excuse for being so tardy was that he had gotten lost. Rosemary Kahles later testified that he appeared to be dirty and disheveled, and was wearing the same clothes as the previous day.
Later that afternoon, according to Rosemary Kahles, she and some of her employees were watching television when a news report came on saying that Matthews’ body had been discovered. Rosemary Kahles says she noticed that the report seemed to excite Bolin — he became, in her words, “pumped up.”
Robert Kahles won’t be able to testify for prosecutors — he committed suicide in 1991. According to his wife, his suicide was in part the result of guilt for what he believed was his own connection with Matthews’ murder. “I shouldn’t have had that boy working for us,” Robert Kahles reportedly told his wife over the phone before putting a gun to his head.
The DNA Evidence
Three semen stains found on Matthews’ pants revealed the presence of type A blood. Oscar Bolin is blood type AB, but prosecution experts say that deterioration before the sample could be collected may have caused some of the blood’s make-up to disintegrate, leaving identifiable A blood cells, but no trace of B cells. The blood testing alone can’t prove that Bolin was the source of the semen, but it can’t exclude him as a possible source.
More complex testing of the semen stains resulted in the identification of five bands of DNA information. Comparing those bands with the six DNA bands distilled from Bolin’s blood produced what prosecutors call a “match” — the five bands from the semen stain appear to be the same as five of Bolin’s six bands. That, according to a prosecution statistician, means that there is only a one in two thousand chance that the found DNA belonged to someone other than the defendant.
Aside from the scientific evidence, the ex-wife of Bolin’s first cousin says that Bolin confessed the murder to her. Michele Steen claims that while the two were drinking one day she playfully asked him out of the blue if he had ever killed anyone. Steen says that Oscar Bolin turned serious, then described in some detail the 1986 Matthews murder.
But by far the best prosecution witness against Oscar Bolin is the defendant’s own half-brother, Phillip. According to Phillip Bolin, who was then 13, his brother woke him from a sound sleep early in the morning of December 5 and told him to get up because he needed help.
Without questioning him, Phillip did so — but when he left the trailer in which he was sleeping and went outside, he was greeted with a shocking scene.
At first, according to Phillip Bolin, he heard a strange moaning sound. Then he saw what he soon realized was a person wrapped in a sheet lying on the ground — a person who was obviously still alive, making gurgling noises.
The Final Act Of Murder
According to Phillip Bolin, Oscar heard the gurgling noises, too. The defendant then took a piece of wood with a metal end — a tool known by large vehicle drivers as a “tire buddy” (used to help them check tire pressure) — and raised it up over his head. Phillip Bolin says he knew what was going to happen, so he turned away, but still heard the unmistakable sound of the weapon repeatedly striking the head of the person under the sheet. Soon, the gurgling noise stopped.
Phillip Bolin says his brother ordered him to get a garden hose and turn it on, an order which Phillip insists he refused. So, according to Phillip, Oscar turned on the hose, then attempted to shove the other end into Matthews’ mouth, in an apparent attempt to drown her.
Prosecutors say that Phillip Bolin’s description of the body he saw matches the appearance of Matthews’ body when it was discovered, down to the fact that the victim was fully dressed but wasn’t wearing any shoes. And the story of Oscar Ray Bolin’s attempt to drown Matthews could explain why the victim’s body was wet when it was located some hours later.
Phillip Bolin says that his brother ordered him to come with him to help dump the body. Again, Phillip refused. He did, however, help his brother load the body onto the back of Oscar Ray’s vehicle, a wrecker with dual wheels.
No Secret Is Safe
Phillip Bolin says he was so afraid of what his brother might do that he didn’t tell anyone else about what happened that night, with one exception. The next day at school, he confided in his best friend, Danny Ferns. Later that day, after school was out, Ferns accompanied Phillip back home and, according to Ferns, he saw traces of blood on the grass at the Bolin home.
Shortly after, Phillip Bolin moved with his parents from Florida to Kentucky. He and Danny Ferns soon lost touch. Danny Ferns never told anyone else about what he knew and neither did Phillip Bolin. It was not until 1990, after Cheryl Bolin Coby told detectives that her husband had informed her of his brother’s participation, that Phillip Bolin was questioned by authorities and told them his version of what happened that night.
The Prosecution’s Case
Prosecutors believe that Oscar Ray Bolin’s murder of Teri Lynn Matthews was an opportunity killing — that the 26-year-old victim simply happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, and the defendant took advantage of that fact.
Attempting to knit the threads of evidence into a whole, the state of Florida has come up with the following possible scenario: At some point after completing his wrecker run on December 4 and 5, Bolin went to the Land O’Lakes post office to pick up his wife’s Social Security check. While there, he saw Matthews, whom he accosted when she returned to her car.
Prosecutors believe Oscar Bolin forced Matthews to go back with him to the camper trailer he was living in near his parents’ home, where, after raping the victim and allowing her to get dressed, he stabbed her in the throat and neck. Bolin thought she was dead, and went to get his brother to help him dispose of Matthews’ body — only to be surprised that she was still alive, necessitating the blows to her head and the hose in her mouth. Then, after Phillip helped him load Matthews’ sheet-covered body onto the back of the wrecker, Bolin drove to a remote site a little over a mile away, pulled into the vacant lot, dumped the body off the back of the truck, then backed out and drove away.
According to prosecutors, he nearly got away with it.
The Defence’s Case
Defense attorneys acknowledge that at first glance there may appear to be quite a bit of evidence against Oscar Bolin. But much of that evidence is circumstantial or unreliable, note Bolin’s lawyers.
While prosecutors make much of the fact that Oscar Bolin gave his wife her Social Security check on December 5, 1986 — a check which would have been delivered to the couple’s postal box at the Land O’Lakes post office — defense attorneys counter that there is no proof that Bolin was ever at the facility at the same time as Matthews. The post office security videotape — which shows Matthews entering the facility at 2:48 am — has no corresponding image of Oscar Bolin.
Bolin’s attorneys concede that Cheryl Bolin was once a patient at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa and that she acknowledged taking several items from the hospital with her when she checked out, including latex gloves and a hospital blanket.
Prosecutors argue that this is how the defendant had access to the sheet in which Matthews’ body was found. But Bolin’s attorneys point out that the defendant’s ex-wife — who is now deceased — never included a sheet in the list of items she admitted to taking from St. Joseph’s.
Then There Were The Tire Tracks
Then there is the issue of the tire tracks found at the scene where the body was dumped. A defense expert claims that what the prosecution identified as dual-wheel tracks are in fact not the tracks of a dual-wheel vehicle at all. The defense contends that even if the tracks were made by a dual-wheel vehicle, it doesn’t prove the vehicle was a wrecker. Many other vehicles have a dual-wheel design, note Bolin’s supporters, including moving vans, delivery trucks and even some pick-up trucks. A large vehicle like a wrecker would also likely have broken tree branches or damaged other brush in the area in which Matthews’ body was dumped, Bolin’s attorneys argue, yet no such damage to any vegetation in the area was noted by crime scene investigators.
A prosecution expert says that at least one of the fresh treads at the crime scene appears to have been left by a Cooper-brand tire. Rosemary and Robert Kahles regularly purchased Cooper tires for their service vehicles. There are, however, no records to prove that the specific wrecker used by Oscar Bolin was equipped with Coopers in December 1986. By 1990, when authorities first began to investigate Bolin’s connection with this case, the wrecker in question had been badly damaged in a fire and its tires had been destroyed and discarded.
Bolin’s attorneys say the semen found on Matthews’ slacks was from someone with type A blood, while Oscar Bolin has type AB. The defense refutes the prosecution’s argument that B blood cells in the sample could have deteriorated, leaving just the A cells, and argues that it is much more likely that the semen was simply deposited by someone with type A blood.
The Story Just Keeps Changing
In addition, the defense contends that the accounts of Cheryl Bolin Coby and Michele Steen are hearsay, and Phillip Bolin is not credible since he has changed his account of what happened on December 5, 1986 at least four times.
When detectives first questioned Phillip Bolin in 1990, he told them his tale of seeing his brother with Matthews’ body. He stuck with that story when he testified in the first Bolin/Matthews trial. But by the second Bolin/Matthews trial, Phillip had changed his story. He signed an affidavit in which he claimed he had been coerced into fabricating his original story, disavowing that account.
When he took the stand in the second Bolin/Matthews trial, Phillip Bolin repeated his recantation. But under what some have called a masterful examination by prosecutor Mike Halkitis, Phillip changed his story again — in effect, recanting his recantation. He then told the court that he had been hounded by his parents and Bolin’s wife Rosalie into disavowing his original testimony in order to help his brother’s case.
Then, at a later time, Phillip Bolin appeared to change his account once again. In a recorded telephone conversation with Rosalie Bolin, he rejected again his original story, saying once more than he had been coerced into it.
Currently, Phillip Bolin is once again claiming that he saw Oscar Bolin with Matthews’ body on Dec. 5, 1986. He is again blaming his previous recantations on family pressure. But, as the defense points out, Phillip Bolin has clearly lied at some point and shouldn’t be trusted now by any jury.