Five Years Later, Murder Remains a Mystery

Sunday will mark the fifth year since Harold and Joni Tillman were seen alive at their La Cañada Flintridge home.

Four days after a neighbor saw the Tillmans' Dodge Durango slip into their garage on Bramblewood Road the night of Feb. 6, 2000, detectives unearthed the couple's bodies near a wash in a nondescript area of Yucaipa. The cause of death: strangulation.

Now, San Bernardino County Sheriff's homicide detectives continue their search for the person or persons responsible for the murders of Harold Tillman, who was 55, and his wife Joni, who was 51.

Some initial suspects have been ruled out. San Bernardino County Sheriff's Spokesman Chip Patterson said investigators have a long way to go before additional suspects are identified. Other unanswered questions about the slayings still haunt the investigation, he said.

"We know where the vehicle was found, we know where the bodies were found, but we're still not exactly sure what the connection is between the Tillmans and San Bernardino County, specifically Yucaipa," Patterson said.

Following the gruesome discovery of the Tillmans' bodies and the body of their white Maltese, Teddy, who was found not far from their unmarked graves, the couple's vehicle surfaced in Van Nuys.

One area of the investigation that has seen intense scrutiny is the couple's financial situation, Patterson said.

Reports uncovered in the wake of the couple's disappearance and murder suggest the Tillmans were in the midst of a number of financial disputes. One instance involved an allegation that the Tillmans embezzled $370,000 from an unidentified clothing designer. That case was ongoing at the time of the killings. Another case involving an alleged breach of a promissory note was nearing a settlement. A third case centered on an inheritance dispute between Joni Tillman and a relative. Still, no motive has been revealed.

"We're not in a position now to say why they were killed," Patterson said. "We've looked at every aspect of their lives, forward and backwards."

The department does not have a unit assigned to investigate cold cases, Patterson said, but homicide detectives will mix those types of investigations in with their current caseloads in hopes new leads come to light.

"Things can change over time. Someone who was not willing to talk years ago might now be willing to tell what they know," Patterson said.

If investigators do find the Tillmans' killer or killers, it wouldn't be the first time a murder was solved after multiple years. The department recently closed the file on the on the 1978 slayings of a brother and sister who were beaten and strangled near Barstow, Patterson said. The killer, a man in his 60s serving time in a Wisconsin prison for another murder, was linked to a suitcase the victims had.

Investigators are still asking for the public's help in the Tillman murders.

"This case is solvable. We just need the right ingredients," Patterson said.

San Bernardino County Sheriff's homicide detectives can be reached at (909) 387-3589.

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