It was summer 1975. Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” was topping the charts. “Jaws” had recently hit the theaters. Young teenagers were reveling in their break from school.
Barbara Schreiber and Darlene Zetterower spent the last day they were seen alive as any teenager would have spent a summer day at the time — in the company of neighborhood friends in the Hollywood area, riding scooters and bikes outside, laughing and joking, Broward Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Homicide Det. Andrew Gianino told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. The girls, supposed to soon be high schoolers and planned to head to a get-together in Fort Lauderdale that night.
A family going fishing found their bodies the next morning, on Thursday, June 19, 1975, on a remote road in western Broward County a few miles north of what was called Andytown, near U.S. 27 and the Everglades, according to newspaper reports from the time. They had both been shot.
After more than a year of investigating, still no suspects emerged. Their murders remained unsolved.
The Sheriff’s Office announced this week that after 28 years, DNA testing of the girls’ clothes produced a suspect: Robert Clark Keebler, who died several years ago in South Florida.
But Gianino, who has worked on the case for the past two years, said the DNA testing revealed a partial profile of a second man, and the Sheriff’s Office continues to investigate who that second man may have been.
Gail Cavaco, a friend of Darlene’s who was also 14 years old at the time, saw Darlene and Barbara get into a white van where they were waiting to hitchhike a ride at Stirling Road and Northwest 40th Street in Hollywood.
Cavaco said in a video released by the Sheriff’s Office announcing the development in the case that Darlene asked her if she wanted to come with her and Barbara. Cavaco said that her father told her no.
“I was scared for them because I didn’t know what was going on,” Cavaco said in the video. “And thank God that I didn’t follow up to go with them.”
The girls believed the ride they picked up would get them to the party somewhere in Fort Lauderdale, Gianino said. Detectives never learned anything about the party or where it was.
The Fort Lauderdale News reported on June 24, 1975, that detectives were interviewing the girls’ friends, trying to put together the pieces of their last day. It was believed they were killed sometime between six and 12 hours before their bodies were found that Thursday morning.
“Amid speculation the girls may have been killed after hitchhiking a ride, the parents of the murdered eighth grade classmates from Attucks Middle School buried their daughters yesterday,” the newspaper reported.
It was a challenging case to investigate from the onset. Detectives were able to glean information on the girls’ last day up until about 6 to 8 p.m., Gianino said. The technology available to law enforcement at the time was limited, and little physical evidence was available from the crime scene.
“There were no cell phones to track, no cellphone towers to ping, no search warrants to write in regards to GPS activity within a certain area,” he said.
Adults in the neighborhood were questioned as possible suspects, Gianino said, but were ruled out through polygraph testing and interviews. The Orlando Sentinel reported a few days after the girls’ bodies were found that police were looking for a young couple who rented a 1974 beige Vega that was found abandoned at the rental company, which they thought possibly connected to the murders. Gianino said that lead, too, was quickly thrown out.
Despite the difficulties the original investigators had early on, Gianino lauded their work, without which he said they wouldn’t have been able to identify a suspect.
“It’s difficult because you have two girls disappearing in Hollywood and then later showing up out by Andytown out by the Everglades. Both shot, no signs of a struggle, no signs of undressing, no sign of any kind of restraints,” he said. “So it was very difficult for them to follow the leads in which they did.”
The discovery of Barbara and Darlene’s bodies near the canal came days after the body of a 19-year-old woman named Nancy Lee Fox was found 200 yards away, Fort Lauderdale News reported in the months after the murders.
The body of 14-year-old Robin Leslie Losch was also found on July 10 on the canal bank half of a mile north of where Darlene and Barbara were found, according to the newspaper. Still other bodies were discovered.
Darlene and Barbara’s murders were used as an example in one Fort Lauderdale News article in December 1975 of mass murders, calling them part of the “Canal Murders which took the lives of six girls during a seven-week period this summer” in Broward and Miami-Dade County.
Eight or so of the murders were referred to in some articles as the “canal murders” or the “flat tire murders,” because authorities found slashed tires on the cars of two women who were killed in Miami-Dade County, Elyse Rapp and Ronnie Gorlin.
The Orlando Sentinel reported in September 1975 that detectives believed more than one suspect was involved. The newspaper quoted homicide Det. Charles Major one year later as saying, “The fact is that canals are the convenient place in this area to dispose of bodies. It’s possibly just a coincidence they were found in canals.”
By then, Major said Rapp and Gorlin’s murders were the only two “positively linked” and “you’d have to stretch it” to connect any of the others, the newspaper reported.
With Keebler’s DNA now tying him to the murders of Barbara and Darlene, Gianino said they plan to revisit other cases with law enforcement in Miami-Dade County, Pembroke Pines, Hollywood and elsewhere to determine “if there’s any relationship between those murders and our defendant.”
“It was a wide open desolate area,” Gianino said. “It was this common place that people would commit these murders and dump the bodies there, but you have to then look at whether or not any of the other murders are associated to each other or if they’re associated to Keebler and, potentially, his codefendant.”
Cavaco recalled the white van that her friends climbed into that day, a key piece of information for Gianino.
He said he interviewed a relative of Keebler’s after he was identified as a suspect and learned that Keebler did drive a white van at that time, when he returned to Florida from California in early 1975.
There was no evidence that tied Keebler as a suspect prior to the DNA testing, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Gianino confirmed Keebler was tied to a white van a week after the girls’ murders, documented in an arrest in Pompano Beach after a traffic dispute. Authorities found a handgun in Keebler’s van.
“So it was one more piece of that puzzle that we put together here in 2023,” Gianino said.
Keebler had many aliases and a criminal history, Gianino said. He said Keebler’s crimes began in March 1970, and he was arrested in “many states.” Charges included armed robbery, sexual assault, aggravated assault and weapons-related offenses.
Both of the girls’ clothes were processed for evidence multiple times, Gianino said. It takes weeks and months for the results.
After two testing results proved unfruitful, Gianino requested a third test. He said he “was just not willing to accept that finding.”
The most recent testing by Det. Roberto Caceres this February got the hit to Keebler in CODIS, the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, along with a partial DNA profile of another man, which is the aspect of the case actively being investigated. Gianino said he expects more information on the second man to come possibly in a few months from pending testing.
“It is someone other than, as we understand at the moment, somebody other than Robert Keebler,” he said.
Keebler died in Miami in 2019, Gianino said.
Is justice able to be served when the suspect, identified after so long, is no longer alive?
“When we talk about justice and whether justice was served or not, I think that’s really a family determination,” Gianino said. “For us, we’re the gatherers of facts and present those facts. But it’s the family that has to have that sense of justice and closure.”
“I can only tell you that after all of these years, the mother and the father of these children have long passed and only their siblings are still alive. In contact with the families, they are so grateful for all of the hard work that people have put on this case,” he said.
Gianino said his hope is that anyone who has any information about Keebler contacts the Sheriff’s Office, “no matter how small that fact may be.”
Authorities ask anyone who may have information on the girls’ murders to call Det. Andrew Gianino at 954-321-4376 or anonymously contact Broward Crime Stoppers at 954-493-8477, online at browardcrimestoppers.org or by dialing **8477 from any cellphone in the United States.