Though an investigation had been carried out by local authorities to track down Teri Lynn Matthews’ killer, every lead was a dead end and the case went cold. The stalled case came back to life in 1990 when Cheryl Coby contacted investigators with new information that she claimed would lead straight to Matthews’ assailant.
Oscar Ray Bolin had already been on Florida’s Death Row for over two decades when Bjorn Brunvand took on the case. Formerly a carnival worker, Bolin was 24 years old and working as a tow-truck driver at the time of Matthews’ murder. Married to Coby at the time, Bolin had since been imprisoned on other charges in Ohio when Coby’s new husband urged her to approach Florida investigators with her story.
According to Coby, Bolin’s younger half-brother Phillip confided to her that he was awakened by Oscar late on the night of December 4. Plainly upset, Oscar asked Phillip to accompany him outside where, he told Coby, a blanket-wrapped body laid in the yard. Informing him that the woman before him had been wounded at a Land O’ Lakes post office earlier in the evening, Phillip then went on to say that Oscar proceeded to administer the coup d’état by way of several blows to the body with a wooden object. Phillip said Oscar then washed down the body with a garden hose and compelled him to assist in loading it into the back of a tow truck. After saying he refused to assist Oscar any further, Phillip told Coby that Oscar left with the body and returned about a half-hour later.
On the strength of Coby’s word alone, Bolin soon found himself arrested by Florida authorities as a suspect in the now-quickened case.
Bolin was met by a tremendous array of evidence against him at trial. On the final night of Matthews’ life, she stopped at a Land O’ Lakes post office to retrieve her mail, some of which was discovered strewn about her slain body, from a post office box only a few feet from that rented by Bolin and his then-wife Cheryl. Though no eyewitness placed Bolin at the post office with Matthews, Cheryl told investigators that she instructed Bolin to pick up a check from the post office box that he did not have before Matthews’ death, but she said she remembered him delivering to her in the hospital after the murder.
As a severe diabetic, Cheryl was often in the hospital to manage her ever-worsening condition. When leaving the hospital, she admitted to frequently absconding with hospital items, including gloves, towels, and sheets. The evening of Matthews’ slaying, Cheryl was a patient at Tampa General Hospital, one of two hospitals she frequented. According to her statement, she had also been a patient at nearby St. Joseph’s Hospital, a facility from which she had also taken home linens. Cheryl’s habit would prove to be problematic for Oscar, as Matthews’ remains were discovered wrapped in a blanket from St. Joseph’s.
The location at which Matthews’ body was dumped was a sandy area far distant from the city, but with sufficient regular traffic to be covered in a maze of tire tracks. Some tracks obviously predated the murder, but, according to prosecutors, one set of fresh, clear tracks stood out.
According to the state’s experts, the tracks were those of a larger dual-wheeled vehicle, likely with Cooper-brand tires, much like a standard wrecker truck. Much like a wrecker truck Bolin was training on at his new job in Tampa, which, according to the company’s owner Rosemary Kahles Neal, was taken by Bolin prior to the murder and not returned until the morning after. In fact, Neal testified that Bolin was eager to take the tow truck out alone that evening, a first for him, as he was still in training. Giving him a “tire buddy,” or a wooden rod with a metal tip, Neal sent him on his way. However, she said that Bolin would be absent the entire night, returning late the next morning wearing the same clothing he departed in the night before, which was then thoroughly soiled and carried an objectionable smell.
Neal noted that, upon arriving at work that fateful morning, Bolin frequently carried a knife that she said he often toyed with in the down time between dispatches. He often spent that time in the company’s break room, which housed a television and other diversions for use by drivers to while away the time between calls. On the day after the murder, she recalled, Bolin was intensely interested in local news coverage of the still-undiscovered Matthews girl, going so far as to make him seem “pumped up” in her opinion.
Though a vast amount of the state’s evidence was circumstantial, prosecutors had more devastating arrows in their quiver of evidence. However, the archer to deliver them had a disturbing history – one of deceit, deception, and misrepresentation.