Police still seek tips in Steve Toms' death one year later

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 15, 2012 

The generous reward remains unclaimed, the mysterious case unsolved.

After about 100 police interviews and a reward fund that has topped $25,000, Columbus investigators still are seeking fresh leads in the homicide case of Gold and Silver Trading Center manager Steve Toms, found dead on the floor of the 3717 Gentian Blvd. business the morning of Nov. 16, 2011.

He was shot multiple times, the bullets all of the same caliber, detectives said. Missing from the business -- referred to as "the little white house" in TV ads featuring owner Bob Upchurch -- were cash and jewelry.

In some cases stolen jewelry can be traced, because of engravings or inimitable styles, but not in this instance. The robber or robbers took gold chains, a common product, said Columbus police Sgt. Harvey Hatcher, the lead investigator: "It's about as generic as you can get."

He said detectives have pursued multiple leads and talked to more than 100 people, but they have not found the thread that unravels the mystery. Still, police believe some one knows enough to crack the case.

One reason for their faith in eventually solving the homicide is the location:

The "little white house" sits apart from other storefronts in the Gentian Corners shopping center, isolated at the busy intersection of Gentian Boulevard and Reese Road.

It's hard to believe someone passing by or visiting the plaza didn't see something, if only a vehicle parked outside.

Gruesome discovery

Upchurch found Toms' body when he got to the jewelry store at 8:45 a.m. that Wednesday.

On the floor beside Toms was a loaded handgun that apparently had not been fired.

The door to the shop was unlocked, an empty cash drawer sat on the counter, and gold chains were missing.

One theory is that the robbery occurred the Tuesday evening before, when Toms spoke to a relative by phone at 5:33 p.m.

He usually moved jewelry from display cases to a safe before closing at 6 p.m., and the jewelry was still out the next day.

"I can't tell you how many people we've talked to -- over a hundred," said Hatcher.

Yet police still are hoping for an eyewitness who can describe an individual or vehicle seen at the shop over that period when the robbery is thought to have occurred.

"Common sense tells you" whoever killed Toms did not walk to and from the shop, he said.

"We need the public's help," he said. "This community owes it to his daughter, his mother and his sister."

Tipsters can convey information anonymously through the Crime Stoppers hot line at 706-653-3188, but Hatcher said anyone who can help police is welcome to call him directly at 706-225-4259.

"Even if they want to call me and still remain anonymous, that's fine, too," he said. "If they don't feel comfortable calling my number, they can call the Crime Stoppers number."

He said informants should report what they saw even if it was not in the exact time frame of when Toms usually closed the shop:

"I would say anybody who thought they saw something from the evening hours of the 15th up until the morning of the 16th when he was found."

Allen Woodall, who has been overseeing a reward fund for information leading to Toms' killer, said it has surpassed the $25,000 goal he initially set for it, and contributions are still coming in.

The fund dubbed "Band for Steve" was established at SunTrust Bank after the robbery.

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