Detective 'overjoyed' over conviction in 37-year-old cold case murder of Navy recruit

When a Seminole County jury found Thomas Garner guilty of Pamela Cahanes' murder, intense emotions flooded Detective Jen Spears. 

"I was overjoyed for the family, angry that he'd gotten away with it for as long as he did, hopeful that if any additional cases out there that we could solve them and give these families some justice as well," Spears said.

She became part of the family when she picked up the case in 2011. She was determined to find justice for this woman she'd never met. 

"My partner, who's retired now, Bob James, he had been working it for several years. I just kind of got interested in it because the victim was a Navy recruit, my dad was in the Navy," Spears said.

Spears was relentless, pouring over documents, interviewing and re-interviewing witnesses and conducting DNA tests, which eventually led to Thomas Garner. But that wasn't enough, she needed a matching DNA sample to connect the suspect to the crime, so she dove into a dumpster to find it. 

"I got right down in there, in that trash compactor," she said.

Spears says she couldn't have done this without a team of investigators helping her out. 

Agents from NCIS and FDLE  joined her combing through garner's trash to get what they needed: A match to DNA left at the crime scene. She broke the news of garner's arrest to Cahanes’ family face-to-face. 

"Just to watch their reaction to that is what this job's about. It was worth every minute that any of us put into this case over the years to be there in that moment with them," Spears said.

When the guilty verdict came down, 37 years later, Spears looked at a picture of Cahanes she'd kept all those years. 

"Last night on the way home from the courthouse, I looked at her and said, 'We did it, Pam,' and pretty much cried the whole way home."