A father's long quest: to find couple's killer

Posted Saturday, Jun. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
Reward offered Anyone with information about the slayings of Fred and Karen Cremean is asked to contact Detective B. Selvey in the Fort Worth police cold case unit at 817-392-4316 or Crime Stoppers at 817-469-TIPS (8477). In addition to up to $1,000 in reward money from Crime Stoppers, family members are offering a reward of $10,000 for information leading to an arrest and indictment in the case.

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Tucked inside his shirt pocket, Jesse Covin of Fort Worth carries a small black notebook.

On its pages, the man jots down names, numbers, and ideas about people he thinks might hold the key to solving the almost 30-year-old slayings of his daughter, Karen Cremean, and her husband, Fred Cremean.

“I have carried one of these books ever since Karen died. I have a stack about that high,” he says, raising his wrinkled hand about a foot.

But neither his digging, nor that of some dozen detectives and supervisors who have handled the investigation through the years, have netted the break that Covin longs for.

Now 82 and facing health problems, he fears time is running out.

In hope of spurring a break in the case, Covin and Fred Cremean’s brother, Larry Cremean, are offering a combined $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and indictment in the case.

“It just floored me when it happened and I’ve carried this almost 30 years,” Covin said. “I haven’t got much longer to go. Neither does my wife. I don’t know what it’s going to take to get somebody arrested and to confess to what they did.”

A father’s warning

Like other fathers, Covin believed that no man was good enough for his daughter.

“She had two or three guys that just worshipped Karen,” Covin recalls. “I shouldn’t have opened my mouth. I told her, ‘You can do better, Karen.’”

He held the same opinion of Fred Cremean.

Two years ahead of Karen at Brewer High School, Cremean had been a classmate of Karen’s older sister, Cathy Powell.

Family members aren’t sure how Karen first reconnected with Fred, but she was obviously drawn to the charming man, called “Pillsbury” by family and friends because of to his chubby physique and ability to make people laugh.

Despite her family’s reservations about Cremean, the couple dropped by the Covins’ house in February 1976 and announced that they were on their way to get married.

Though not invited to come along, Peggy Covin did snap a photograph of her 19-year-old daughter, dressed in a floral dress with a corsage pinned on her chest, and her 22-year-old husband-to-be.

But marriage would come with heartache.

A year after the wedding, Karen became pregnant. On her expected due date, an ultrasound revealed that the infant girl she had planned to name Amber Denise had died after the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.

Because doctors feared a cesarean section would have put her life in danger, a devastated Karen had to carry her dead daughter another week before delivering.

“That’s all Karen ever wanted was a baby,” her father said.

Karen Cremean was never particularly close to her parents, but family members say she grew even more distant during her marriage.

Covin suspected that Fred Cremean was involved in drug dealing. A month before the couple died, he tried to offer his daughter a way out.

“I said: ‘Karen, I don’t know a thing about drugs. I’ve never been around it. I’ve never seen it.’

“I said, ‘Let me and Mom get you out of the state and away from him, because sooner or later, he’s going to up,’” Covin recalled.

“‘They’re going to come after him, and if you’re home, they’re going to take you, too.’

“And that is exactly what happened.”

Gruesome discovery

When Karen Cremean, 27, failed to show up for work at the Kmart in White Settlement on the morning of Sept. 19, 1983, co-workers grew worried.

Cremean was rarely late to her job as an assistant manager in the store’s automotive center.

A co-worker went to the Cremeans’ rental house in the 4800 block of Mayfair Street in west Fort Worth, but got no answer.

The employee peeked through a window and saw Karen Cremean slumped over. Two store managers arrived, entered through an unlocked back door, and found her and her 29-year-old husband dead.

She had been shot twice in the head.

Her husband had been shot four times, including in the head.

Investigators quickly theorized that the execution-style deaths were drug-related. Almost $2,000 cash was found scattered around the home, along with a set of scales, drug paraphernalia and a small amount of cocaine.

Larry Cremean acknowledges that his brother dabbled in “party stuff” drugs such as marijuana and speed but insists that he was not a big drug user or seller. He suspects that his brother was killed after becoming involved in a drug transaction far outside his knowledge and comfort zone.

“He was small-time potatoes,” Larry Cremean said. “He just stepped over into an area where he shouldn’t have been.”

Police say they don’t know whether Fred Cremean was the target in the slayings. But the Covins and Larry Cremean have little doubt.

“It was just bad luck for Karen. She was so sweet. She never did anything wrong. I feel so bad about that,” Larry Cremean said.

“... If Karen hadn’t been with Freddie, she probably would still be alive. But she was a grown lady. It’s life. You make decisions in life.

“Sometimes it’s not the right decision and later in life you try to learn from those mistakes. Sometime you just don’t live long enough to learn from those mistakes.”

The Covin family was surprised to learn that their daughter and her husband had already made preparations for their deaths.

“I think my sister was living in fear,” Cathy Powell said. “I think they were threatened because she went down and she bought a burial plot, she bought a casket. She had it ready.

“Everything that they bought, they’d put insurance on it so in case one of them died, it was paid for. I think he was being threatened and she just happened to be at the house.

“When they killed him, they took her, too.”

Searching for answers

The families held a double funeral at Normandale Baptist Church in White Settlement. It was the church where weeks before, Karen had rededicated her life to the Lord.

“We had a revival, and Karen and our son attended that night, and Karen walked down and rededicated her life right before she was killed,” her father recalled, breaking into tears. “I think she’s in heaven and with her baby.”

Larry Cremean said he vowed to his brother that he would find the person responsible for the couple’s deaths.

Hell-bent on his mission, he said, he allowed other things in his life to deteriorate.

“When a loved one or someone in your family is murdered, it will consume you. It will eat at you until it just eats away everything,” Larry Cremean said.

“... This basically consumed my life for the biggest part of seven years. There comes a time where you say, I just can’t do anything about it. I do firmly believe there is a higher power than these people we have to answer to.”

“I made my brother a promise I couldn’t keep,” Larry Cremean said.

Fort Worth police homicide Sgt. Cheryl Johnson said detectives have interviewed close to 100 people and processed many pieces of evidence, but no clear suspect has emerged.

“In some instances, time and distance for a cold case allows witnesses to emerge who were afraid to cooperate at the time,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, this is a case where time and technological advances have not helped solve the case.”

Unlike her husband, Peggy Covin isn’t obsessed with finding her daughter’s killer.

“The night before the funeral, I had a vision from God and he comforted me,” she said. “I know she’s better off where she is, and I’ll forgive whoever did it and he’ll answer to God for what he did.

“I can’t punish him. ... That wouldn’t do me any good. That wouldn’t bring Karen back.”

But her husband says he’ll never give up.

“I’ll do it until I die.”

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655 Twitter: @deannaboyd

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