Family of Kannapolis man killed in 1988: ‘Like a book with the last chapter missing’

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. — For the last few months, Channel 9′s Hannah Goetz has followed along with a team of detectives that is working on cold cases dating back more than 30 years.

The victims’ families still want justice and answers to questions about what happened to their loved ones. Charles Linker’s family is one of those still searching for closure.

Next week marks 34 years since Linker was found dead at his auto exchange dealership. A staple and leader in the Kannapolis community, his death came as a shock to many just days before Christmas.

While the case is more than 30 years old, it remains at the top of the list for detectives with the Kannapolis Police Department’s criminal investigations division, who still continue to dig.

Linker, known as Charlie by his friends and family, was a well-known car salesman in Kannapolis. His children told Goetz he lived quite a life -- he served in the Navy and went on to make countless friends, going on adventures with them any time he could.

In 1949, he married the love of his life, Mildred Eberhardt. Together, they had three children. He couldn’t hide his pride the day he walked his daughter Carla down the aisle.

As she told Goetz about her father, Carla smiled alongside her husband.

“He would have given the shirt off his back to anybody,” Carla Linker Wilson said. “He was referred to as ‘Jolly Charlie’ and during the Christmas seasons, he would be in a Santa outfit throwing candy out on the street.”

“That’s the kind of heart that Charlie Linker had,” said her husband Bob Wilson. “I think he was a very generous, loving and friendly guy.”

Carla said support poured in from hundreds of people after his death. There was a line outside the funeral home, and inside, a beautiful memorial that represented how loved he was by the community.

“My dad was so well known, there were flowers everywhere, Christmas trees, poinsettias,” she said. “And our oldest daughter, she was like three and a half at the time, we were walking in, and candles, and she looked around and she said ‘is this heaven?’”

On the evening of Dec. 20, 1988, Linker was found by his son. Investigators said he had been stabbed to death at his auto exchange on South Cannon Street. He was 62 years old. His watch and a diamond ring he was awarded for being a top salesman were both gone.

Kannapolis Police Sgt. Alex Quigley oversees the detectives in the criminal investigation division, and worked on this case himself.

“There’s been a lot of leads, a lot of different people talked to, interviewed, polygraphed, evidence sent off to the lab back back in the ‘80s,” he said.

He said they have been able to track down and talk to new people from the time of Linker’s death.

“I mean, these were people that were never interviewed back in the 80s,” Quigley said. “And we’re asking about 30-year-old details.”

Sgt. Quigley said they also have done a comprehensive review of all the evidence.

“It’s brought some steam to the case,” he said. “It’s kind of brought it back into the forefront with some new leads to follow. But we’re still just not there to the point of making an arrest.”

With the momentum they have gained, there are also a number of setbacks working on 34-year-old case. Quigley said one of the biggest is DNA.

“Some of the chemicals and tests that they did in the ‘80s -- unfortunately, they didn’t know -- destroy DNA,” he said.

Detective John Cramer is the current investigator on the case.

“Regardless, whether the case is 34 years old or just a couple hours old, the end goal is still the same,” Cramer said. “Holding people accountable for their actions and giving the families the closure that they need.”

After Goetz’s first interview with Detective Cramer in October, he had his first meeting with Charlie Linker’s daughters since he took over the case. Goetz interviewed him again in early December to follow up on their meeting.

“They were definitely able to shed the light on some of the details that, a report only documents so much, I was able to get some clarifying details that I had questions on myself,” Cramer said.

So much has changed in Kannapolis in the last 34 years, including the address of the auto exchange. Cramer said that makes it hard to visualize what it looked like that night.

“It’s so vastly different than it was 34 years ago that, it’s not like you have a scene that you can go back and recreate exactly what happened,” he said.

Carla Wilson and her husband told Goetz that Christmas was her father’s favorite time of year, and since he passed so close to it, the holidays haven’t been easy since. But they said they are cautiously optimistic that sharing these memories again will help bring new light to the case.

“It’s like a book with the last chapter missing,” Carla said. “Not even the last chapter, the last page.”

“I know having closure sometimes might be painful because we have no idea who did this, we don’t know if this was some random person or if it was someone that knew him,” she added.

“We are very hopeful that something will come of this, that somebody will remember something, that somebody will think of something that they maybe haven’t shared prior to now,” Bob Wilson said. ”Charlie was well-known in Kannapolis and I’m sure a lot of people wonder ‘who did this?’ ‘are they still out there?’”

If you have any information regarding this case, you are asked to call the Kannapolis Police Department at 704-920-4000, or contact the Cabarrus Area Crime Stoppers.

(WATCH: Channel 9 takes a look at Kannapolis cold cases that date back decades)

Hannah Goetz

Hannah Goetz, wsoctv.com

Hannah is a reporter for WSOC-TV.