We all have that one friend who is blunt, has strong opinions, and says exactly what's on their mind (maybe a little too often). However, if you have a friend like this, you also know that kind of honesty and straightforwardness comes from someone who wants the best for you. Janet Shirar was that friend. She was very frank, wasn’t afraid to tell you when you were messing up, and although her advice came unfiltered, she was always trying to help you out and fix your problems.
Janet found the perfect job that allowed her intelligence, quirkiness, and desire to help others shine as a special education teacher at Bon Air Middle School. Here, Janet taught emotionally handicapped students between the ages of 12 and 15. Janet’s fire, drive, and passion was teaching; she lived and breathed it. Her principal said that she was an excellent teacher and amazing with her kids. Her colleagues remember Janet loving her job and consistently going out of her way to learn the newest teaching techniques. Her friends remember Janet as the life of the party, but can recount more than one time where she canceled social plans to prepare a lesson plan for her students. Janet’s students remember her as a sweet and beautiful lady and one of their favorite teachers. Janet Shirar was known and loved by many, contributed and added to her community, and her love for life was infectious to those around her, which makes her murder even more difficult to grasp.
The days leading up to Janet’s murder were busy. On Friday May 23, 1980, the day before her murder, Janet was last seen around 4:30pm leaving Bon Air Middle School by Jan Hinkle, a friend and coworker. Hinkle remembers seeing Janet because she invited her to come out for drinks to celebrate a special education contract offer, but Janet declined because she had to buy a cake for her nephew's birthday party. So, Janet drives home to her apartment at Center Meadows Apartment Complex. If sources are correct, a longtime female friend of Janet’s comes to her apartment and spends time with Janet. Janet’s mother, Rose Fitch, calls Janet twice this night to discuss the gift she and Janet were planning to get for Janet’s nephew. However, Rose is unaware that someone else is in the apartment with Janet during this call. Janet receives another call from a friend around midnight, and Janet’s female friend is still in the apartment with her. The exact timeline of Janet’s murder is unclear, but investigators believe that Janet was murdered between 3:00am and 11:00am on Saturday, May 24, 1980. If Janet was murdered around 3:00am then Janet’s longtime friend was the last person to see Janet’s alive and was with her in her apartment around three hours before her death.
Police believe that Janet’s killer grabbed a 4-inch Stellite paring knife that previously belonged to Janet’s grandmother from Janet’s kitchen drawer, stabbed Janet at least once in her bedroom in her subclavian vein, an artery below the shoulder but close to the neck, before Janet ran to the bathroom and died within three minutes of this initial wound. The killer stabs Janet over a dozen times in her back, torso, and thighs. A resident living in the same apartment complex reports hearing a small car start up and take off around 3:30am this morning, but this fact is not reported until 24 hours after Janet’s body is found. Remember Janet’s nephew’s birthday party?
On Sunday, May 25, 1980, Janet’s mom and stepfather, Rose and Alvin Fitch, as well as other family members attended their nephew’s birthday party, which also served as a family reunion. Janet doesn’t show, which is strange because Janet always makes an appearance at this event and even talked to her mom about the gift they would give her nephew. Rose and Alvin begin to worry and call Janet’s friends, who all say they haven’t seen her. Later that evening and after the birthday party is over, Rose and Alvin go to Janet’s apartment complex. Upon arriving, they first see Janet's car, an orange-red Datsun B-210, with one door ajar in the apartment complex's dimly lit parking lot. They go to Janet’s apartment and attempt to enter it, but the door is locked. However, Rose uses a small handheld flashlight and sees Janet’s purse sitting on the floor of Janet’s living room. Rose calls a friend of Janet’s to pick up a passkey and meet them at Janet’s place. Janet’s friend, who remains unnamed, Rose, and Alvin enter Janet’s apartment shortly before 11:00pm.
The friend flicks on the light switch, but the lights do not turn on. Before walking into the living room, Janet's friend first picks up a blood-stained yellow towel and throws it on the couch. Then, his flashlight spots the telephone stand, an old whiskey keg. However, the stand is not in its normal place by the end of the couch near the bedroom and bathroom doors, and the phone cord is stretched taut to make it seem as far away from Janet’s bedroom as possible. Walking around the end of the couch Janet’s friend see’s what appears to be the bloody left hand print of a woman on the wall outside Janet’s bedroom door. As Janet’s friend turns around, he sees something horrific, Janet's nude body.
The crime scene was disturbing. Janet’s body is face down, with her arms extended straight by her sides, and her hands facing palm up and wiped clean. Her body appears to be positioned carefully because her head is facing the door, but Janet's face is to the floor. Her torso, back, and thighs are covered in over a dozen slash marks. The murder weapon, the parring knife, is also found lying next to Janet’s body. Janet’s stepfather rushes Rose outside to prevent her from seeing the graphic scene and police are called.
When police arrive they investigate the crime scene, but they find no signs of struggle, sexual attack, forced entry, robbery, or theft, which suggests to police she knew her killer. They also find a second partial bloody handprint in the kitchen at shoulder level, and Janet’s clothes stacked in a neat pile in the closet. Police also question several people but are unable to identify a suspect.
On May 26, 1980, a coroner confirmed that the wound on her back was the first wound she received and the one that killed her. Two days later, police are waiting on lab results from fingerprints collected from objects at the crime scene, confirm they still have no suspects, but believe that Janet knew her killer.
Janet’s case was at a standstill until August 1, 1980 when police sent Janet’s investigative case for review to the Howard County prosecutor, Fred Osborn. A few months later, Osborn would return the case back to Howard County police; he did not charge the woman suspect that police identified in Janet’s case due to a lack of evidence. The suspect police identify is the woman that was in the apartment with Janet the night before she was murdered, and the same woman who tells Janet’s stepfather, Alvin Fitch, that she was the last person to see Janet alive. Moreover, law enforcement believe another female material witness (FMW) had information on their identified suspect. They believe the FMW had called their suspect after Janet’s murder, and police wanted information regarding the nature and content of this phone conversation. The FMW had moved four times within the year of Janet’s murder, and in 1982 was ordered by the court to provide a statement to the police. However, police commented on the FMW’s provided statement, saying that the FMW either “didn’t know what we thought, or didn’t want to tell us anything.” Hinkle, Janet’s coworker who say her the night before she was murdered, knows the FMW’s name and also comments on the FMW’s statement, stating that “others” got in the way of the FMW providing information to police that would allow Janet’s case to be solved. According to police, the woman suspect in Janet’s case is the primary suspect and was questioned intensely the 16 months after Janet’s murder.
In September 2007, Howard County Deputy Lt. Greg Hargrove states that "a female friend of Shirars was a person of interest." However, they have no evidence to link her to the crime. Hargrove also adds that they keep track and re-interview persons of interest, have heard very little of Janet’s case, and a very small ring of suspects exists for Janet’s case. He also says the last tip that they received in Janet’s case was in 1999. Unfortunately, Janet’s case is still unsolved, there are person’s with information that are still not coming forward, and Janet’s killer is still out there and has never been brought to justice. Janet’s case is open and law enforcement are continuously working to deliver Justice for Janet.