Clothing that possibly belonged to a San Bernardino-area couple may yield DNA that could help unlock the mystery of a nearly 2-decade-old slaying of a high school basketball coach in Hollywood, authorities say.
But because testing has been stalled by a backlog of sexual assault cases requiring DNA screening at a state laboratory, Los Angeles Police Department cold-case detectives say they are turning to the public for help. They hope that new information in the slaying of Stirling Herbert Hart Jr., a high school basketball coach who was gunned down and robbed in 1986, could speed up testing of the case's evidence.
"Cold cases eat at you," LAPD Det. Rick Jackson said. "But this one has always personally affected me because it was really brutal, he was really loved."
Hart, 31, was a varsity boys basketball coach at Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance. Police said Hart boarded an evening bus home to Hollywood on Sept. 22, 1986. After he got off, he stopped by the Sideshow, a now-closed Hollywood Boulevard bar, Jackson said.
There, he met a couple who had told a bartender and a patron that they were from the San Bernardino area and that they were low on money. They struck up a conversation with Hart. Minutes later, at about 10:30 p.m., the three were seen leaving the bar together, Jackson said.
About 11:55 p.m., a motorist found Hart's body in a gutter in the 5800 block of Fernwood Avenue, Jackson said. Hart had been shot to death and his wallet was missing.
Authorities gathered evidence, including a woman's burgundy T-shirt with the logo "Sharon's Place" found near the scene, and had sketches made of the couple last seen with Hart.
Now, Jackson, who helped lead Hart's murder investigation at the time, is hopeful that DNA testing of the clothing found near Hart's body -- and a new round of publicity -- will provide leads that end in an arrest.
"The big thing in cold cases is that allegiances change over time," Jackson said. "This young man and woman we want to question may no longer be connected, and one of them, or someone who knows them, may have some valuable information. The DNA results are pending, but we can request a push to get it completed if we get the right phone call."
Police speculate that the couple sought money from Hart and that, in return, he accepted a ride home -- less than two blocks away. He was found a mile from the bar, in the opposite direction of his home. Jackson believes Hart was shot in a car and his body dumped.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Det. Rick Jackson at (213) 847-0970.