NBC15 Investigates: Dr. Thomas Speer Cold Case

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - As of December 2018, there were 27 open cold cases in the Madison Police Department dating back to 1960.

One of them, unsolved was the case of Doctor Thomas Speer.

Nearly 50 years after Speer's death, the pressure to find answers increases as the chance of someone who knows something decreases with time.

Doctor Thomas Speer’s sons turned to NBC15 Investigates' Hannah Anderson to tell their father's story as a last push to find answers and closure to the day that changed their lives forever.

"That night, I will remember like it was yesterday," Tod Speer, one of Dr. Thomas' Speer son said. "It was one of the saddest times in my life."

Tod and Andy Speer were just eight and nine years old.

"We were in bed, the doorbell rang, it was about 10:30 at night. Our house was situated, so you could look out the bedroom and see straight down to the kitchen," Tod Speer said.

The Speers lived in Merrillville, Ind. in 1971.

"We saw a policeman came in, he talked to our mom and she started to cry and she came back and said we lost your father," Tod Speer said.

Their father, Thomas Speer, was a man they knew had so much to give.

"He worked with the Jonas Salk on the polio vaccine as he was leaving medical school," Andy Speer said.

After medical school in Pittsburgh, Penn., their father took a job as the medical director for the U.S. Steel Company in Indiana and worked on workman's comp cases.

"Somebody is going to be happy, someone isn't going to be so happy," Tod said. "So, it could be a point of contention with that sort of testimony."

Dr. Speer's family remembers him as a wonderful father who was hard working.

"He was a father first and foremost, a loving husband, a scientist and our hero really, we just love him so much," Tod said.

Speer's love for medicine drew him to a conference in Madison one summer weekend. The night of July 28, 1971, Dr. Speer was seen walking toward, what was then the Quality Courts Motel, on the southeast side of Madison, according to police and witness reports.

Several gunshots were heard, and a white man in his 20s or 30s was seen speeding away in a yellow sedan.

Police interviewed several witness, as well as the hotel staff.

"It is a little unnerving having to live with this, not knowing how your dad was killed or why," Tod Speer said.

There were several people of interest,
but no charges were ever filed. After four years, the case went cold.

"When investigators talked to Thomas' family and friends at the time, he wasn't someone who had enemies and people who would want to hurt him," Madison Police Detective Mark Hull said. "I always try to put myself in the shoes of the victims and victims’ families."

Hull took over the case in July 2017, after Tod asked to see the case file. Hull re-opened the case.

"It was overwhelming to think about having to go back and investigate something almost 50 years ago," Hull said.

Before Hull could release the reports, he had to review them to make sure nothing else needed following up on.

"It took me a long time to organize things, and make sure I had a good grasp of what was done at the time," Hull said.

Hull showed NBC15 some original case photos, some he had converted from negatives in the original file.

"There was a bullet found in this Coke machine, and a bullet found in this stairwell," Hull said.

Hull re-interviewed several of the people of interest, some of whom he said are still in the Madison area.

Hull said he's hesitant to share many details because he doesn't want to compromise the investigation.

"Some things need to be held a little close to the vest, because that provides us some authenticity in some respect to what a witness says happened or what they saw," Hull said.

He said if police reveal too much information, especially in a cold case where information is limited, people could tell them what happened with the information the police provides.

At this point after 47 years, Hull said he hopes just one new piece will help move the case forward.

"All it takes is one person, with a bit of information that can send a case moving forward. It really [can] change the complexion of where the investigation is," Hull said.

"We just always thought that justice would be served, someone would be caught, and we wouldn't have to look back, just move on," Tod Speer said.

Moving on hasn't been so easy for the Speer family since July 28, 1971.

"It's just like in that moment [the day the Speers got the news] an opaque lens just kinds of falls down in your vision and in your life," Tod Speer said of the day police informed them of their father's death.

"It really destroyed the fabric of our family," Andy Speer said.

After their father's murder, their mother took her own life, and their older brother died of an overdose.

"So you can see how one bullet killing one man ripples through a family," Tod Speer said.

For the first time, Andy and Tod went back together to the spot their father laid.

"Yeah this is it."

"This was right here where dad was shot."

"It's kind of nauseating. I know. How about you? Same way."

The brothers said they're thankful they have each other.

"Say a prayer. Jesus, we love you so much, we thank you with being here all these years."

As they continue to pray for answers.

"In Jesus' name, Amen."

New $15K reward for information
Starting, Dec. 19, there will be a $15,000 reward through Madison Area Crime Stoppers for anyone who can give information that leads to the arrest and conviction of a potential suspect. Tips can be called or submitted online. Det. Hull said if anyone was at the motel on July 28, 1971, knows anyone who was there or any other information related to this case, please call 608-266-6014 or the Madison Police Department.

Click here to submit a tip online.

If you have a tip for NBC15 Investigates' Hannah Anderson, send an email to news@NBC15.com with the subject line "NBC15 Investigates."