True Crime Stories - Never Too Late to Reveal a Murderer

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68-year-old Sondra Better was finishing her shift at Lu Shay’s Consignment Shop in Delray Beach Florida in August 1998 when a man came into the store and beat her to death. Sondra received several blows to the head before her throat was slashed and she was left on the floor to die.

Sondra was a mother, a grandmother and the cherished wife of her husband Seymour “Zeke” Better. The couple was on the cusp of renewing their vows and celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. She came to work at the store after retiring in Florida.

There was DNA left at the crime scene, but the police were not able to match the DNA to a suspect. As the case went cold, Zeke began volunteering at the police department and remained actively in touch with detectives regarding the status of the case.

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Four years after the murder, dealing with Sondra’s absence was a daily struggle, according to an article in the Palm Beach Post. "It has been very, very hard," he said. "I will always miss her, no matter where my life takes me. I will never, ever stop missing her."

Seventeen years after the murder, Zeke passed away without having any answers.

Twenty years after the murder, a man more than 200 miles away in Brandon, Florida applied for a job that required a background check. As part of the background check, 51-year-old Todd Barket’s fingerprints were entered into a national database. His fingerprints matched the prints of an unknown person suspected in a murder in 1998 — the murder of Sondra Better.

After the crime occurred in 1998, news articles mentioned that the suspect’s blood was left at the scene but did not mention that a fingerprint was found on an item next to Sondra’s body. Detectives had entered the print into the national Automated Fingerprint Identification System database. For 20 years, there had never been a match until Barket’s fingerprints were collected and submitted as part of his potential employer’s background check.

After further DNA analysis, it was determined that Todd Barket was the perpetrator. A jury quickly found him guilty and he was sentenced to life in prison. While Zeke Better was not there to see justice served for his beloved, Sondra’s daughters were. According to an article in the Palm Beach Post, Sondra’s youngest said she vividly remembered the night when one of her sisters called her with the news about her mother. For 21 years, she said that the loss has all been surreal. “To this day, I still expect Mom to call.”

DNA evidence helped to solidify a guilty verdict in this case, but a fingerprint was the real catalyst for identifying the suspect who had eluded law enforcement for 20 years. The collection of fingerprints and the ability to digitize and store them has been a key factor in solving crimes for many years. This case demonstrates how relevant this technology still is today and how it will be playing a role for the next 20 years and beyond. If not for this technology and the assiduousness of government agencies and employers to utilize it, justice may never have been served for Sondra Better. To learn more about the identification technology behind cases like this, check out HID’s solutions for criminal justice.

Stacy Tilmann has been writing for technology companies for over 20 years and has a passion for presenting complex information and ideas in a way that is easy for broad audiences to consume. She spent nearly 17 years working for IBM as a Technical Writer before joining HID in 2017 where she has focused exclusively on biometrics.