(WBIR-Knoxville) It's been less than a year since a 37-year-old was found shot to death in his SUV that had rolled down an embankment, but detectives need your help in solving the cold case, which was the first Knoxville murder of the year.
Many people usually think of a 'cold case' as an unsolved murder from many years ago, but investigators said it's not about when the crime happened, and instead about the evidence, or lack of. Now, the Knoxville Police Department is asking for the public to share any information about the murder of Leslie Guy Byford IV.
Byford's family, who lives in Memphis, drove to Knoxville this week to sit down with detectives and share the story of their loved one with 10News.
"The hardest part I guess was not being able to say goodbye," said Ann Marotti, Byford's mother. She broke down into tears while talking about her son.
"The first thing that comes to my mind is his wit. He was always the class clown," said Marotti. "He was a very gentle, kind, and loving person."
Byford, who went by Lee, had stopped at his house in East Knoxville for a few minutes. Detectives said around 9 p.m. January 5th, 2013, he went back out to his SUV that was parked in his driveway, where his friend had been waiting in the passenger seat.
"He was just going out to have some fun with his friends on his birthday," said Brandon Wardlaw, an investigator with the Knoxville Police Department.
Wardlaw said a masked man came from behind a private fence next door.
"Next thing we know there were a couple of shots fired. And Byford's truck ended up rolling down a hill where it came to rest. And he was ultimately found deceased," said Wardlaw.
Investigators said Byford was shot twice. Officers said his friend then went back into the house and called police.
Wardlaw said the murder was the first for KPD in 2013. Investigators canvassed the scene and looked for evidence overnight. While they are still looking for clues, a concrete motive has not been determined.
"I don't think that this was planned to be a murder. I think it was planned to be a robbery or something of that nature and it ended up just going a lot farther than the suspect thought it would," said Wardlaw.
Jeff Day, an investigator with KPD's Cold Case Division, said the suspect ran down a side street toward the Hardee's on Magnolia Avenue.
"We don't get a lot of crime here. Every now and then your property crime. But I can't think of any crimes like this we've been called out here for," said Day.
Byford's home was tucked into a neighborhood off Magnolia, where trees paint the streets, blocking the high-set homes from the main road.
While it's only been eleven months since Byford's was killed, Day said the unsolved murder is a cold case since they don't have any leads.
"You can have a case that's five years old and have tons of leads that might not fit the definition of a cold case. So time doesn't matter as much as leads, information, what kind of information we got initially," said Day.
"This is going to be a difficult one to crack, with the little bit of evidence that we have," said Wardlaw.
"Look at the city. You've got cameras in certain locations, you've got witnesses walking around. Here, it's a little more secluded so you don't have the natural benefit of people," said Day."It's kind of a secluded place, an odd spot for a random murder."
Detectives said they have continued to talk to neighbors and witnesses, but have not made much progress.
"Nobody has come forward. Nobody is talking about it in the streets. We've been trying to get all the information we can, but nobody seems to know anything about this case," said Wardlaw.
Discouraging words for the family, who said they need the public to step up and report anything suspicious they may have seen or heard, hoping detectives can then track down the man who killed their loved one on his birthday.
"That's usually supposed to be your special day. And it left a lot of people in mourning, missing out, on Mr. Byford," said Wardlaw. "We really want to get this closed out for the family, so they can have some closure."
Marotti said it's the closure they need to truly move on.
"As a Christian, I get a lot of strength from God, and from my family," said Marotti. "But I miss the phone calls and visits and looking forward to him coming home."
Marotti had one message for the killer.
"You know who you are. And I just hope that they come forward or anyone who has any information would come forward. And I don't want vengeance, but I just want justice for my son," said Marotti.
She said the family is offering a cash reward for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information is asked to call the Knoxville Police Department at 865-215-7017.