Nearly three years after Jamie Stickle was found burned to death in her Jeep outside her North Side apartment on Feb. 8, 2002, many things about the unsolved killing still upset Stickle's mother, Marge Walls. Not least of which is the fact that her daughter's death is still not officially a homicide.
Jamie Stickle, 33, was well known in the gay community as both a bartender and a fund-raiser. On the night she died, Stickle closed Sidekicks (which she also managed) after midnight, stopped briefly at Pegasus and the Liberty Avenue Saloon (all Downtown) and tried unsuccessfully to enter the private club above the Saloon. At 3:45 a.m., she was found in her burning vehicle next to her isolated apartment attached to George Warhola Scrap Metal on Chesbro Street.
Police reports noted money, lipstick and mace scattered near her car, as well as a trail of blood from her locked apartment door to the driver's side of her car. According to the autopsy reports and a Polaroid of the scene, she was sitting, and breathing, in her car when she died.
Pittsburgh Police, says Stickle's mother, told her that her daughter "never made it inside, as far as they were concerned."
Late last year, Walls convinced the local Divine Intervention Ministries to include her daughter in their police-assisted billboard campaign seeking clues to cold murder cases. "I had a hard time because I wanted to put 'murdered' [on the billboard] but they wouldn't let me," Walls says. The billboard has been up for six weeks near the 16th Street Bridge, close to Stickle's former residence. There have been no responses.
"You get to the point that you just give up, like it's hopeless," she says.
Unanswered questions surrounding Stickle's death still keep her former landlord, Maria Warhola, thinking about the case too.
"My husband said there was so much blood on the driver's side of the Jeep -- it was awful," she recalls. The burn mark is still visible in the macadam.
In November 2002, when Warhola was finally cleaning Stickle's apartment, she found a large set of keys attached to what she describes as a pink dog leash, sitting on top of the refrigerator. She called police, who came and took them and, Warhola says, won't talk to her about the find.
Warhola's recollection matches a description Stickle's mother offered independently -- the "pink ... belt-type thing" where Stickle kept all the keys to bar doors and bar coolers.
Warhola wonders how police could conclude Stickle had never entered her apartment that night if her work keys were on top of the fridge. And if she had entered her apartment, what lured her back out?
Today, Warhola can only speculate. Was Stickle's high alcohol level upon her death -- .225 by blood test, .28 by urinalysis -- due to her drinking, or because whoever killed her also forced some alcohol down her throat? Dr. Frederick Fochtman, director and chief toxicologist in the forensic laboratory division of the county coroner's office, doesn't believe the latter is likely. "If someone poured alcohol into her, she wouldn't have that in the urine," he says. "Being .28, to me she had been drinking for a while." Driving under the influence of that much alcohol -- and higher -- is something Fochtman says he sees "daily. ... They fail a sobriety test, but they're driving. It's not unusual."
But Warhola keeps returning to the mystery of Stickle's keys. Her apartment keys were found on the floor of the Jeep, Warhola says. On the night of Stickle's death, the Warholas couldn't let police into the place -- they thought Stickle, who had locked herself out by mistake recently, still had their spare set of keys as well. But months later, when cleaning out George Warhola's office, the spare set turned up. If there was such a struggle, why was the apartment locked behind Stickle as she exited?
Police homicide Det. Joseph Meyers, still handling the case three years later, did not return several calls for comment by press time. Stickle's mother says she feels ignored by police when she seeks information about the case today.
"I'm at a loss," Walls says. "I know nothing. It's like I don't even know who to talk to give me more information."
The Stickle killing is a cold case by now, says police Commander Maurita Bryant, but so is every case from 2004 or earlier. "I know that Joey [Meyers] has that file sitting right by his desk," Bryant assures. "He keeps in contact with the family. He's interviewed over 100 people. ... He's still working on that case. For him, it's not a cold case. You can ask him a question on the Stickle case and he rattles it off as if it just occurred." Meyers, she says, does talk to Stickle's mother -- "maybe not as often as she believes he needs to talk to her."
As they have done every year, a group of Stickle's friends and colleagues is planning a memorial on the anniversary of her death, says Liberty Avenue Saloon owner Tony Rubino.
The $18,000 reward money they raised to help solve this crime remains unclaimed.
"I truly miss her," says Warhola. "She was like a daughter to my husband and I. She treated us like her second parents. She would always talk to us if something was bothering her. For somebody to do this to her -- how angry could you possibly be?"