By Kathryn Kopp with Todd Matthews
Editor’s Note: Kathryn Kopp, a published author of over thirty years has joined forces with Todd Matthews, who brings thirty plus years of determination and dedication to the research involving those unable to speak for themselves, as a respected and well-known cold case sleuth, whose diligent works are found through his years with NamUs, the DoeNetwork, the podcast, “The Missing Pieces Show,” many television appearances, Youtube, and his investigation with the “Tent Girl,” and many others, has brought him both print and digital coverage in many publications throughout the years. Contact Matthews if you know of any information related to the Bertram case: [email protected]
Today marks the last of the Vickie Bertram series.
Though it has been forty-four years since her death, it is our belief that there is a good chance someone is alive today that either was involved in Vickie’s death or has a finger to point in their direction.
Indeed, through this informal inquest, names have emerged and there are those that have had the courage to come forward, offering further information, tightening the circle around those that may be responsible. To those directly involved that may think they have been forgotten and their truth buried with Vickie, we ask that you remember that truth has a way of emerging. A secret is never safe.
One could say it takes a severely disturbed individual to kill someone as they continue to walk this earth with no shame, wearing their facade of innocence like a shield of protection. It also takes a terrified individual to know details of a murder and in fear not come forward, when there are so many here to offer you support.
Either way, the truth lies in the soul of a killer and if they say nothing, only their own death will free them—or will it?
Why is it the belief of so many that Vickie’s body was staged to look like she jumped or stumbled to her death?
After gathering information we have laid out in this three part series, wouldn’t you agree that there may have been grievous errors, or at the very least, overlooked information in her case’s quick investigation?
Today we are going to offer to you more evidence that cold case sleuth, Todd Matthews, and Bertram’s brother, Ryan Allred uncovered after Allred’s court order to exhume his sister’s body was granted and they drove to the highly respected, University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility, “The Body Farm,” in Knoxville, to find out how Bertram’s small frame sustained no injuries from her one hundred and twelve foot fall.
The second forensic autopsy performed by Body Farm staff, Dr. Lee Jantz and Dr. Murray Marks found injuries not shown in the initial autopsy, which included multiple bone fractures that occurred at her time of death. Most of the injuries were found in her hip and tailbone area, not in the areas most likely when a body lands face down.
One notation mentioned the fractures as similar to a “high-speed injury.” Opening up the possibility that Bertram may have been struck by a vehicle. It also left questions as to how, found lying face down, her fractures were most predominant to this area of her body and why fractures were not also found in other areas of her body that made contact with the ground.
This autopsy confirmed there were broken bones and was in direct contradiction to the first autopsy saying there were no broken bones.
On Aug. 10, 2000, after the second autopsy, Bertram’s, still sixteen year old body was laid once again to rest in her hometown, where the wind possibly still carried the whispers of her truth in and out of some of these homes. Still with few answers, Matthews and Allred felt triumphant knowing they now had absolute proof that the first autopsy held some serious and unquestioned errors.
They wondered how the initial report could have been so blatantly wrong to list she had no broken bones—and that fact seemingly not to have been questioned by authorities at that time. Anyone standing at the bottom of that bluff would have known it would have made national news if someone had fallen that far and not received a broken bone. No viable DNA evidence was retrieved from her remains and without her clothing from the scene, no other opportunities for DNA were available.
During this time, Allred and Matthews also concluded that after interviewing and questioning many that knew Bertram, or may have had some knowledge of her activity near the time of her death, most all were reluctant to be involved and would, instead, point to others for them to speak with, circling Matthews and Allred in various directions and only to end up with few valid statements.
Forty-four years later, hope is not lost.
There is evidence yet to be shared and that is in the possession of the person or persons that know what happened to Bertram or knew what she was doing on the day of her death.
It is not over.
The question is: how much longer will someone hold onto the secret of a young girl’s life that stopped at sixteen?
Tips can be anonymous, so why isn’t someone coming forward to release their silence and bless this family with the truth?
Was what they did to Vickie to intentionally harm her and her family, so they feel no guilt and feel justified in some foolish, vindictive way?
Was it one’s inner demons that came out that day and Vickie was the unknowing subject of their escape?
Or is it another’s belief they need to protect someone, someone close to the truth?
If you are reading this and feel you will tell your part one day, remember, time has a way of stealing opportunities, such as good intentions of, “maybe tomorrow.”
One day you may not be here to share Vickie’s truth. One day her family may not be here for you to allow them that consideration. Vickie’s mother is still waiting for you to come forward. Vickie’s brother, who has dedicated his life to law enforcement, is still waiting for you. Matthews is still waiting for you. The community of Livingston, where a killer may be walking, is waiting for you.
It is the belief of Betram’s family, Matthew’s, many in the community and myself, that there may be someone out there that knows what happened the day Bertram lost her life.
What purpose would Betram have to be at the rock quarry bluff?
What was she doing at the cliff by herself?
It is about a mile walk to town. Why would she walk there with her purse and jump off the cliff committing suicide as some speculated—with no suicide note, I add.
Bertram, who was a talented writer, left no note that day to confirm her suicide that we are aware of. No one seems to be able to corroborate that this was somewhere she would walk to prior to this day.
Not her family, not her good friends. No one can say why she would have been at this location, period. The only one that knows is Vickie—and, the one that we feel is responsible for her death, or those who hold their secret.
Possible scenarios are being considered, many even by the reader’s of this series themselves.
One such scenario is, it seems very plausible that someone murdered Bertram somewhere else, then staged her death to look like a fall, as the trajectory of where her purse was on top of the bluff versus where her body was found at bottom seems highly unlikely.
Then there was the report that she was found spread eagle, almost like someone put great thought into how a person would look if they fell or jumped from a cliff, but this is rarely the actual form of an individual after a fall from a high place.
Why would she leave her purse at the top, yet take her paycheck with her to her resting place?
The road to the quarry was low traffic and the entrance to the bottom of the quarry where Bertram’s body was found was easily accessible to drive a vehicle into this bottom area and with great privacy leave a body and exit without being noticed.
Was she possibly killed somewhere else and then her body driven to the bottom of the cliff and her purse flung out at the top of the quarry to make it look like she had fallen or jumped from the bluff?
Another takes into account the second autopsy report that stated she had suffered multiple fractures in the pelvic region that were in line with a high rate of speed.
Could it be that Bertram was walking back down the quarry road after Mrs. Dishman had called out to her and someone driving came upon her at the curves, didn’t see her and accidentally hit her, frantic, they decided to lie her body down at the bottom of the quarry and make it look like she fell by tossing her purse at the top?
Could it even be that Bertram had been alive when they realized what they had done and they quickly bound her wrists to stop her from fighting them off?
Accidents happen, but someone could have been terrified they would be found to blame and took the cowardly way out.
Yet another scenario may be that Betram was meeting someone and was attacked, she had gone to the police just months earlier stating she had been raped, what if this same person made good on his threat to kill her, or possibly another, met up with Bertram with bad intent, attacked her, and somehow she fought and ran, only to be caught up with and pushed extremely hard over the bluff, her purse falling to the killer’s feet?
Did Bertram meet someone at her new job at the sewing factory who met her at the bluff?
Did she meet up with someone who was certain they would never be suspected, maybe even someone who thought they would be protected by authority, someone who felt entitled to do what they wanted to in life and never have to deal with consequences?
Did someone go to rob her and she got hurt in a struggle, so they killed her, staging her death?
Did someone who lived nearby see her walking, knowing the seclusion would allow his identity hidden as he harmed her?
Was she a witness to something sinister and her comments to Savage came to fruition?
For those that believe she simply misjudged a step or jumped to her death, consider asking yourself: why did the first autopsy report state NO broken bones?
Why did officials seem to not question the report and what would seem to be an obvious error?
Why did her file disappear for so long?
Where are the photos?
Where is her clothing?
Where is the material that was said to be wrapped around her wrists and forearms?
Where is her purse?
Why was her rape report of months before not seemingly pursued?
Why are some denying even knowing or having heard of Bertram, when it is a fact they did know her, and, besides, how could anyone that was near her age at that time not at least know of her story, one that has haunted the community for decades?
Some are even denying knowing their own close friends that knew Bertram before her death.
Why was there a seemingly lack of questioning of family and friends, and the quick stamp of case closed?
And, if she did fall or jump, why would she have bound her arms first?
How many issues could a sixteen-year-old child have brought to this community that would make someone want to kill her?
Whether it was an accident or intentional, someone holds the truth.
She mattered in this world, no less than anyone else. She was a beautiful young girl that never got to see her life unfold. Her chance of falling in love, raising children, watching grandchildren play, was stripped from her that fall of 1976—while someone else may have been gifted with those life events, all while making internal excuses for their withholding the truth of what happened to Bertram.
Maybe the person responsible has left this earth in a car wreck or of illness and those that are left behind and care for them know of their actions in Bertram’s death, but do not want to tarnish their loved ones name—but why should they carry a clear name, while Bertram’s was stripped of hers at such a young age.
Maybe it is someone who thinks of themselves as above the law, and they walk your streets knowing what they did and confident they will never be caught.
If you believe in your community that you have grown up in and love, and you know something, please bring Vickie’s truth home.
Keep your community one of respect to your neighbors, not of doubt. Don’t accept what you believe to be “rumor” and leave it at that, if you know something. Come forward.
It is your community voices that continue to call out for justice for people like Vickie Bertram and John Thrasher, yet maybe some with knowledge still refuse to come forward and provide what they know, it is a contradiction that can be remedied. Forgiveness is abundant when you do the right thing and the truth will set you free. If someone would stand strong and believe it is the right thing to come forward with information on Vickie, you will be breathing life into Vickie’s past, rewriting her history with truth and healing for friends, family and community can begin. It takes courage to not be a coward.
Matthews is adamant that the details of Bertram’s case needs to be brought forward to the community and encourages consideration for the file to be reopened.
“A lot of time has passed and I feel like a public statement is the right thing to do. I get asked about Vickie weekly by people that I meet in town or at my and my wife’s boutique. I’ve heard a lot of stories and rumors over the years. If anyone has any additional information I’d love to hear more,” Matthews said. “I was appointed the county coroner years ago, so we can consider this a ‘coroner inquest.’”
Vickie Bertram is laid to rest just a few gravestones away from the grave of Sheriff Terry Mitchell. Matthews and I went to visit her resting place and I couldn’t help but feel such strong empathy toward this young girl who died just seven days before turning seventeen. That there may be a killer, or someone that knows the truth, who has lived to breathe these forty-four years while she lay still, would be a horrible tragedy.
Ryan Allred was only ten years old when he lost his big sister and has spent his adult life hoping to bring her justice. That someone could so easily come forward anonymously and whisper the truth—yet instead, they choose to hold her secret close to their heart, is cruel—and be the one that courageously brings the truth to Vickie’s story. Don’t be the one that intentionally holds hostage a suffocating sadness for Betram’s family and friends.
As we stood at Vickie’s grave, I pleaded to the heavens that justice would come to her honor soon.
I silently promised her I would do what I could to help bring truth to her story, that I think of her often and pray for her always…and as I looked down from the sky, my eyes fell across to Sheriff Mitchell’s headstone just a few feet away, his continued quotes that she suffered no broken bones can’t escape my mind.
I can’t help but feel that there is still some unfinished business between them.
I’m sorry we couldn’t give our readers all the answers, but we hope we gave you the opportunity to question Vickie’s untimely death, so you too can see how it is sensibly possible that a killer may be responsible and still today be roaming your community.
Maybe as an authority figure. Maybe as a neighbor. Maybe as a friend.
We invite you to continue to bring us your thoughts, as Matthews and Allred are not going to let Vickie’s story be forgotten. This series may have ended with part three, but there will be more to this story, this we are certain. Many have reached out since this series began and we thank you, as you have brought us closer to the truth. We thank you for your readership and your concerns that a wrong be righted.
The official case of Vickie Bertram is closed, but Matthews asks if you have relevant information that may help reopen Vickie’s case, please reach out to him, anonymously or otherwise through his email address at: [email protected]