John Lewis Barbre, 52, was beaten with a bat or board in January 2008 and died two days after he was found.
ALBANY — Finding a murderer sometimes becomes complicated by a victim who apparently did not live by the rules.
John Lewis Barbre could best be described as living a street life that involved drugs and working girls, according to police reports. He also became involved with police as a witness to the murder of Jack Camp.
The possible motives in Barbre's murder abound. No matter. According to Albany Police Department officers, a complicated life taken by a murder must be investigated as vigorously as the murder of a saint.
"This is a very complicated case to work. He (Barbre) didn't hang out with the best people, and there are so many that could be involved," said police Sgt. William Henry. "It doesn't matter that he smoked crack. He is the victim of a crime. Only the man upstairs should decide when we die. Not a thug with a board or a baseball bat."
Barbre's killer split open the back of Barbre's head with a vicious attack that left him with more than 25 staples closing the wound. He was found on Jan. 15, 2008, dumped in front of the Tallulah Massey Library in East Albany, and he died two days later.
According to past reports, Barbre's family believes he was killed in connection with his role as a witness to the June 2007 Jack Camp murder. That is a possibility, Henry said, but there are many motives attached to the street lifestyle.
"This is not a smoking-gun case," Henry said. "It is a circumstantial case. The family wants it closed, and I want to close it for them."
Henry said that the 52-year-old Barbre witnessed the murder of security guard Camp at Barbre's apartment complex during a drug deal. Camp called police about the drugs. The drug dealers fatally shot Camp.
Three men went to prison for life in connection with the murder of the popular public servant who served at various times as coroner and a search and rescue volunteer.
In 2008, a grand jury indicted 19-year-old Marquis Kentrell Barney, of Albany, for the beating death of Barbre.
"We didn't have enough proof to go to trial," Henry said. "The case is not closed. It is always open, and he can be prosecuted. Somebody knows what happened. We need them to come forward."
The case is more than four years old. That could work in the favor of catching the murderer.
Richard H. Walton, Utah State University author of the textbook "Cold Case Homicides: Practical Investigative Techniques," said that most cold cases are cleared because relationships change over time.
Without discounting the DNA, fingerprint and material evidence in homicides, Walton said "changes in marriages, friendships, with drug dealers, people in the neighborhood and others are the way cold cases get solved."
When a relationship changes, a witness or anyone who knows something, anything, can decide to come forward, Walton said. DNA, fingerprints and other evidence can degrade in storage, but a change in relationship could trigger a resident to step forward.
Keeping the case in the public mind can help a lot, Walton said.
When the Barbre case was new, Henry kept Barbre's picture ID on his desk. He no longer looks at the dead man's face, but he remembers.
"We went to lunch in East Albany the other day," Henry said. "I saw the location, and I ran through the case in my mind. We talked about it at lunch. It isn't over."
Anyone with additional information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (229) 436-TIPS (8477) or investigations at (229) 431-3288. The Spanish-speaking APD-COP Tip Line is (229) 434-2677.