When Carol Lee Preslar was killed in 1988, it ruined her family's life, as they pleaded for the Fort Worth Police Department to interview more suspects and look into evidence.
Preslar was a 27-year-old University of Texas Arlington student who had dreamed of being a stock broker. She was living with one of her older sisters in Utah, but had moved out in pursuit of a fresh start. She was cocktail-waitressing at a local hotel to pay for her degree. She had her life ahead of her. That was all until she was brutally raped and murdered in June 1988, and no one has ever been held responsible.
"Now that so much time has passed, it's more about a sense of justice, to be accountable, and also have some resolution," said Jodi McKenzie, Preslar's niece. "My goal would be to have resolution in my mom's lifetime because both Carol's mom and dad have already passed."
McKenzie has taken on the responsibility of seeking justice for her aunt, who wasn't that much older than she was.
"I lost my mom, I would say, at the same time. She was not very functional, understandably so because they were very close," McKenzie said.
Susie McKenzie, Jodi's mother and Preslar's oldest sister, had spent time raising Preslar after their parents divorced. Eleven years older, Susie McKenzie, who was married with three daughters, invited Preslar to live with the family as she was finishing up high school.
"My mom has a lot of survivor's guilt," Jodi McKenzie said, adding that her mother had planned a trip from Utah to Fort Worth to visit Preslar. Susie was supposed to leave on her trip earlier, but a few things delayed her, and days later her baby sister had been killed.
"My mom has a fantasy that she could have saved her and my dad's like, 'Well, it could've been you too. The wrong place, wrong time. Who knows what you could have gotten mixed up with?'" Jodie McKenzie said.
Susie McKenzie spent decades trying to solve the killing and urged the local police department to do more. Susie however, now in her early 70s, has distanced herself from the case.
"She's pretty hopeless about it," Jodie McKenzie said. "She got pretty disenchanted by the interactions with the police and what they said about my aunt."
Preslar's boyfriend hadn't heard from her in over 24 hours on June 25, 1988. He had an extra key to her apartment, in the Avignon Apartment complex at 6125 Bianca Circle, so he went inside and found his girlfriend dead and the room covered in blood.
The 27-year-old had been beaten, tortured, tied, strangled and sexually assaulted.
Because she worked as a cocktail waitress, Jodie McKenzie said, the family feels the investigation into her aunt's death was mishandled.
"[The police] kind of blamed the victim," she said. "They said some horrible things at that time like, 'She got what she had coming to her.' … 'She partied.' … And well, no, she didn't deserve to die in that horrific way. No one has that coming to them"
Investigators looked deeply into Preslar's boyfriend, who later was cleared as a person of interest. Years later, in the early 2000s, the police department arrested a man who was Preslar's neighbor, but DNA evidence and an alibi later proved it wasn't him, either. Since then, there hasn't been much luck.
A plea to come forward
The case went cold, and was reopened in 2013, but that was short-lived after the detective in contact with the McKenzie family had retired. Years passed again until the case reopened in 2020, thanks to Jodie McKenzie reaching out consistently to the police department and applying pressure, she said.
"I want to bring attention to the fact that there's a lot of evidence there that has not been tested or retested and there's a lot of suspects that have not been eliminated," Jodie McKenzie said. "It's a combination of trying to bring awareness to her face, and potentially new leads or tips, because there's a good impression that some people knew what happened, but were afraid [to come forward] for whatever reason."
Jodie McKenzie was young when she knew her aunt, but described Preslar as a loving and good-hearted person who was a "total jokester."
She's dedicated years to the investigation and said she's prepared to spend the rest of her life for justice, but has one plea to the public: come forward if you know any information.
Residents can contact Detective Leah Wagner at 817-392-4397 or Detective Jeff Bennett at 817-392-4308, who both work in the police department's cold case unit, or contact Crime Stoppers at 817-469-8477 if they want to remain anonymous.
And as for Preslar's killer, Jodie McKenzie said she wants him to know that he's robbed several people of living their life.
"She was really getting her life together and this destroyed our whole family," Jodie McKenzie said. "I never felt safe as a woman after that. Neither did my sisters."
The Fort Worth Police Department has not responded to a request for comment about the case or its investigation. For more information on Preslar's murder, the McKenzie family recently spoke on a local podcast.