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SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT: Unsolved Madison Murder

By: Dana Brueck and Chief Photojournalist Curt Lenz Email
By: Dana Brueck and Chief Photojournalist Curt Lenz Email

Posted Monday, April 27, 2009 --- 7:00 a.m.

Madison Police pounded the pavement of the city's south side Friday, in search of answers almost two years after a local man is murdered.

The case is still unsolved, but Madison Police believe people in the city have critical information.

"This is where my Dad used to always come... "

Tony O'Brien remembers everything about visits to Madison's Brittingham Park with his father.

"I'd run around with other kids... throw rocks in the lake .. so it was a good memory."

Tony and his older sister, Opal Tomashevska would rather remember their father's generous way of life ...

"He'd always have a 5-dollar bill in his pocket, and if someone needed it, he'd hand it to him," Opal says.

... than the violent way of his death.

"You never think someone in your family will be murdered -- someone that close to you, you never think that... and it changes everything."

Everything changed the morning of August 22nd, 2007.

"This is the room right here where it happened," Capt. Joe Balles says.

The body of 65-year-old George Thomas was found in room 148 of the King's Inn.

"Whether he was sleeping at the time, we're not sure."

But immediately police were sure it was a murder.

"Pretty bloody crime scene..."

Police say Thomas died from stab wounds and blunt force trauma.

"Jody was good people. I met Jody one time when I needed a ride to the store," a man, who goes by the name Mustafa, says.

Mustafa was staying a couple of doors down from Thomas at the time.

"He had a beautiful smile ... Was just so laid back, like Bobby McFerrin ... don't worry, be happy. That's Jody," Mustafa says.

The friendly, carefree man who walked with limp was better known as the "tire man," or as Jody.

"Jody wouldn't kill a flee. He wouldn't kill a mosquito. He'd rather swat at it, never smash it. That's how good a person he was," Mustafa says.

That's also party of what makes Jody's murder a puzzle for police.

"He didn't discriminate against anyone. He would just help people at the side of the road," Balles says, "Unfortunately, some of that generosity may have contributed to his death that night."

"Lots of people knew him as the tire man... If they didn't know his name, 'cause he'd drive around with a truck full of tires, you'd always know it was him."

From a young age, Tony and Opal watched their father salvage tires...

"He'd give them to the neighborhood kids ... and I know he donated a lot of tires to where I grew up," Opal says.

Several years ago, family say Jody began to struggle with drugs, in part due to pain from a leg injury.

Court records show a conviction for cocaine possession in 2002.

Still, Jody's children say he always managed to provide.

"He was definitely a person who added to society and gave back and did have kids who were doing the same," Opal says.

Police do not believe Jody's murder was random. He knew a lot of people - people police still want to find.

"George is actually the kind of witness we're looking for -- a guy that really knew everybody and knew what was going on," Balles says.

But, nowadays, Mustafa says vacancy is the norm at the King's Inn.

"It's changed. His death has changed things. It's a tragedy it took his death to make a change."

"What is highly suspicious is who was around back then who's not around now," Balles says.

Tuesday marks what would've been Jody's 67th birthday.

"There's people, then there's human beings... Jody was a human being. He cared about everything and everybody," Mustafa says.

"He always greeted you with a smile," Opal says.

Tony and Opal, who see their father in themselves, believe he's in a better place.

"Faith got us through it."

But they hold out hope for justice.

"He was a person. This was not a throwaway person," Opal says.

This case is still active. Police say the state crime lab continues to analyze evidence collected at the scene, but they want people who knew Thomas or stopped at the same places to contact them. If you have any information, contact Madison Police or Crime Stoppers at 266-6014.

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