BODY OF EVIDENCE

Years after Linda Sherman vanished, her skull turned up at a restaurant. Now the cops are hoping that new forensic tests will lead to her remains -- and nail their primary suspect. But heís not worried.

The window tables at the Casa Gallardo restaurant on St. Charles Rock Road don't ordinarily offer much of a view -- a couple of bushes and a yucca plant surrounded by rocks in a small landscaped strip. But around noon one steamy Thursday, two TWA flight attendants walked in for lunch and were seated at the window table overlooking the bushes. Something caught their attention amid the greenery, peeking out from beneath the yucca plant.

It was a human skull.

It wasn't the pearly color of an anatomy-class specimen or haunted-house prop. It was a shade of ocher, with bits of dirt lodged between its teeth. The face of the skull, jawbone askew, was aimed directly at the window on the building's east side.

Lt. Michael Webb of the Vinita Park Police Department has been working the Linda Sherman case since 1985: "You hate the idea that someone committed this crime and has gotten away with it for so long. I want him or her to know that it's not going to be forgotten."
Jay Fram
Lt. Michael Webb of the Vinita Park Police Department has been working the Linda Sherman case since 1985: "You hate the idea that someone committed this crime and has gotten away with it for so long. I want him or her to know that it's not going to be forgotten."

Whether the flight attendants ever finished their lunch is unclear. The discovery was so startling and strange, one of the women thought it must be a prank. She called the manager over and pointed it out. Worried that other patrons might lose their appetites, the manager immediately pulled down the blinds, then called the Bridgeton police. It was 12:47 p.m. on June 28, 1990.

It wasn't a prank. Within the hour, crime-scene investigators were taking photographs, and the skull was sent to the St. Louis County medical examiner's office. An anthropologist concluded that the bones were of "recent origin" and bore markings more consistent with an adult female than a male. Not much more could be determined.

Walter Mutert, now Bridgeton's police chief, remembers that the source of the skull was a mystery. At the time, a lot of digging was going on near Lambert International Airport, including the wholesale moving of cemeteries to make way for MetroLink, he notes. "There were problems with that airport cemetery, with remains coming up.

"There was no reason to believe at that time there was any foul play," Mutert says. "There was nothing for us to go by."

Police classified the case as "found human remains." The cranium and jawbone were stored on a shelf at the county morgue, a skull with no name.

In the 5-by-7-inch photograph, 27-year-old Linda Sue Sherman grins at the camera. Her head is cocked to the side, and her brown hair has the sort of long, layered look so popular in the mid-1980s. She's wearing a blue turtleneck with eyeshadow to match.

She was born in 1957 and spent her entire life in North St. Louis County, growing up on Dadebridge Court in Ferguson and attending McCluer High School, never straying far from the area she called home. Outgoing and athletic, Linda was the youngest daughter of Walter and Elenora Lutz -- carpenter and homemaker -- a churchgoing couple determined to see each of their children receive at least a high-school diploma.

Linda almost didn't graduate. She was 17 and pregnant when she exchanged vows with McCluer High classmate Donald Sherman during a small ceremony at Christ Memorial Baptist Church in Cool Valley on Feb. 10, 1975. The wedding wasn't fancy. Linda wore a blue dress with a high neck and poufed sleeves. The groom sported a turtleneck sweater beneath his powder-blue jacket. They celebrated with their guests afterward at Noah's Ark Restaurant in St. Charles.

The newlyweds continued to attend McCluer High while renting a house next door to Linda's parents, and Don, a senior, graduated a few months later. After giving birth to a daughter, Patricia Marie, in August, during her summer break, Linda began her final year of high school while her mother watched the baby. They called the little girl Patty.

Don Sherman says those early years weren't easy. The couple struggled to make ends meet while raising a child. Linda worked a few part-time jobs -- altering suits at Sears, key-punching at Site Oil Co. -- before settling into work in data entry. He worked briefly as an assistant manager at a gas station before becoming a machinist -- a career he has stayed with ever since.

One of Linda's older brothers, Dennis Lutz, remembers trouble in the Sherman marriage. "I know they moved in next door to my mom and dad, and I know there was a lot of conflict at that point," he says. "Her husband, Don, was a very jealous person. He didn't even want her talking to people -- other guys, that is." Although Dennis moved to San Antonio, he saw Linda when he returned home for visits. "When we were home, we kinda did things together," Lutz says. "He was even jealous about that. I said, "This is my sister. We're going to go have lunch together.' He would just have a fit."

By October 1977, the Shermans were separated, and Linda filed for divorce. She wanted custody of their daughter and the couple's marital property: an assortment of furniture, some dishes and silverware, a sewing machine, a black-and-white television. Linda didn't follow through with the divorce. In March 1979, a judge dismissed the petition for "failure to prosecute," a legal term for lack of activity in the case.

That same year, Linda and Don Sherman reconciled, and the young couple bought a modest five-room brick bungalow on a quiet dead-end street in Vinita Park, a small bedroom community of middle-class, mostly blue-collar families.

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