This article was published in The Orlando Sentinel on May 22, 2015.
By Gal Tziperman Lotan
When she was growing up on the outskirts of Stillwater, Minn., Pamela Cahanes' parents taught her to be trusting.
She was raised away from the city, in a town with fewer than 10,000 people on the bank of the St. Croix River. Her parents, Louis and Alice Cahanes, ran a dairy farm.
Cahanes was the seventh of eight children: six girls, two boys.
She spent a lot of her time with family: playing softball with her father on Sundays, riding bicycles and doing what she could to help with the farm.
But by 1984, the 25-year-old Cahanes wanted something more.
She had moved about 20 miles away to the city of St. Paul and was working for a publishing company. But it wasn't quite enough.
"She wanted something different," said her brother, 59-year-old Doug Cahanes, who lives in Stillwater. "She wanted a change. I think she wanted to see some of the world, and I think she thought she could do that by joining the Navy."
The timing seemed right: She had just broken up with her boyfriend and was feeling stagnant.
Still, she was a bit hesitant about her decision to enlist.
"She said, 'Mom and dad are not going to like this,'" said her sister Eileen Bergmann, 65, of Lake Elmo, Minn. "I said, 'You have to do what you want to do, not what mom and dad want you to do. If there's something you want to pursue, you go for it.'"
Her parents accepted her decision.
"I don't think they were worried about her being killed," Bergmann said. "They just didn't want to be separated from her."
In late May 1984, Cahanes said goodbye to her family. Her mother drove her to the airport, and she flew 1,300 miles southeast to the Orlando Naval Training Center in what is now Baldwin Park.
But two days after she graduated from boot camp, her adventure was cut short.
The morning of Aug. 5, 1984, Cahanes was found dead in Sanford.
In the 30 years since, her case has remained unsolved. Her father died not knowing who was responsible for his daughter's death.
Her now 96-year-old mother, her siblings and the investigators who have been poring over old files for decades want to see the case solved.
It was just after 7 a.m. Aug. 5, 1984, when a passing driver spotted Cahanes' body in the overgrown grass.
She was facedown, knees folded, in the side yard of a vacant home on what is now the corner of Riverview Avenue and West First Street in Sanford.
Cahanes was wearing only her underwear.
Her white uniform pants lay crumpled inches away. Her white belt and black shoes were also there, near the short-sleeved white uniform shirt with her name in block letters.
Her bra was found three days later about 200 feet from where her body was found. Inside was a prescription-pill bottle containing a paper towel but no pills.
Cahanes was strangled to death, badly beaten and covered in scratches.
But she was not robbed, said Seminole County Sheriff's Office Investigator Bob Jaynes, who has been on the case since the mid-1990s.
All her shopping bags from the previous day lay around her. Nothing was missing, from the $445 in traveler's checks to a pair of tweezers.
"Everything was accounted for," Jaynes said. "The receipt was there; all the items were within the bag."
There was some evidence that investigators could not find the origins of:
•A speck of blue cellophane on her right shoulder and a pubic hair on her left.
•A semen stain on her underwear, which matched the DNA profile of scrapings found under her fingernails.
•Yellow carpet fibers clinging to the waistband of her pants.
Investigators zeroed in on a man who hung around the base hitting on recruits, but his DNA was not a match when investigators tested it years later.
Today, there are no real suspects.
"She could have been killed in the Winter Park or Orlando area or on the Navy base, I don't know," Jaynes said. "Or just transported over there and dumped. What the attraction was, what the connection is ... when I find the guy, I'll find out."
At boot camp, most of the women in Cahanes' class were younger than she. Many were just out of high school, away from home for the first time.
The schedule was rigorous.
"It's a hard way at first, but it's a great way to become independent, and then have support, financially, emotionally, of the people that you're with," said Marsha Litwin, who graduated boot camp with Cahanes but does not remember her well.
Recruits woke up at 5 a.m.
"I just remember the lights being flipped on, and you've got 15 minutes to be on the line," Litwin said.
After inspection, where petty officers expected clean uniforms and impeccably made bunks, they had a hot breakfast of bacon and watery eggs.
Their days were filled with exercise drills and classes where they learned about ships and naval history.
The only free time came in the evenings, when recruits often chatted, smoked cigarettes or slept. For Cahanes, this time was spent singing with the Blue Jackets choral group and writing letters home.
Sherri Onorati also graduated with Cahanes but has only a vague memory of her.
Onorati does remember graduation weekend — the first break in their boot-camp routine. They had a curfew, but some sneaked out to Club Mariner in civilian clothing, she said.
"For me and a lot my friends, it was the first time that we drank or had been exposed to that kind of stuff," Onorati said.
Two of Onorati's photos from graduation weekend show Cahanes in a white uniform with a black-and-white cap, her arms around other women in her class. She's grinning.
Jaynes and other investigators have assembled a timeline of the day before Cahanes was killed using time-stamped receipts found at the crime scene and witness interviews.
But one of the case details Jaynes continues to investigate is this: Who was the man Cahanes was seen with the day before she was killed?
In 1984, investigators said the man was probably involved with the Navy or boot camp in some way, since recruits had almost no free time to meet people off-base.
In a letter she wrote her mother Aug. 1, Cahanes said she liked two men in her brother company: Vasques Gonzales and Allen Williams.
The two men do not appear in the Navy's records, Jaynes said.
Investigators have no idea who these men Cahanes mentions in the letter might be. Jaynes said the men might not be suspects. They just have never been able to track them down.
But what investigators do know is roughly how Cahanes spent her last hours alive.
Witnesses reported seeing Cahanes in Orlando Fashion Square mall on East Colonial Drive between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
At 3:18 p.m., she bought makeup and toiletries at a Kmart near Fashion Square mall. A witness told police a man was with her. The two seemed friendly. They got into a car and drove off.
Cahanes and a man were in front of the Navy base on Main Street between 6:30 and 7 p.m., witnesses told investigators.
They were together at Club Mariner, a bar at the base, sometime between 6 and 8 p.m., according to witnesses.
At some point that evening, Cahanes left the club.
At 1:09 a.m., it appears Cahanes or someone she was with bought takeout at a Chinese restaurant. A receipt for about $4 found at the crime scene did not list a business name, Jaynes said. But a takeout container was found nearby.
Cahanes ate some vegetables, her autopsy showed. It was her last meal.
By sunrise, she was dead.
Since the death
The Seminole County Sheriff's Office and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service have now spent three decades on the case.
In recent years, Jaynes has been running the DNA found on Cahanes through every database he can access. He's yet to get a positive hit.
Across from his desk at the Seminole County sheriff's headquarters, Jaynes has a printed-out photo of Cahanes. She's in uniform in front of an American flag, smiling.
"The mother's getting elderly, you know. I'd really like to solve this thing," Jaynes said.
Cahanes was buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis.
Her father, a World War II veteran, was buried in the same cemetery in 2001.
The family is still hoping for answers. But whoever killed her has gone three decades without being found.
"And who knows," Doug Cahanes said. "The person might be deceased by now too, for as long as it's been."