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When Will the Search for Barbara Jean Horn's Real Killer Begin?

The little girl was killed in 1988 in Philadelphia, and the man convicted in her murder was exonerated last year after serving 28 years behind bars. Both Walter Ogrod and Barbara Jean's family now want police to look again for the killer.

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What to Know

  • Barbara Jean Horn's killer has never been found. A man convicted in her murder, Walter Ogrod, was freed in 2020 after the Philadelphia District Attorney's office reviewed the case and found that he was coerced into giving a confession by city detectives.
  • The Philadelphia police department says it is too busy currently to open a new murder investigation into the little girl's murder.
  • Ogrod and Barbara Jean's family say they hope the killer, or killers, told NBC10 in new interviews that they want closure in the case.

It took years for Sharon Fahy to believe that her former neighbor had not in fact killed her 4-year-old daughter.

But once she heard details from an investigation into Walter Ogrod’s 1996 conviction, she was all in. 

“That's when it really started sinking in, that he definitely didn't do it and he needs to get out of jail,” Fahy said in an interview with NBC10 earlier this month. 

Fahy was determined to help any way she could. 

“I went to court and I signed a paper saying that I didn't believe he did it and that he should be let out of jail,” she said. 

In June last year, a judge overturned Walter Ogrod’s murder conviction -- and pulled him off death row. 

After 28 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit, Ogrod was free. 

But that also meant that Barbara Jean Horn’s killer has, for now, escaped justice. 

“It's just opening another, you know, nightmare again, just to have to go through everything all over again,” Fahy said. 

But Fahy and her family are intent on finding the real killer.

“Me and my family can't just let this go,” Fahy said. 

Barbara Jean Horn was killed in 1988 in Philadelphia. The 4-year-old's killer remains on the loose.

And there is some hope. 

During its investigation into Ogrod’s conviction, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit found two suspects they believed may have killed Barbara Jean Horn. 

“We think that there is more evidence suggesting they did it than Walter Ogrod ever,” Patricia Cummings, head of the Conviction Integrity Unit, said. “But it's not enough and at least it's not enough at this point in time.” 

Walter Ogrod was wrongfully convicted of the murder of Barbra Jean Horn and served 30 years in prison before being exonerated in 2018. The NBC10 Investigators interviewed Ogrod who spoke about how the time behind bars continues to impact him. NBC10's Claudia Vargas has the story.

Cummings declined to name the two suspects. But said that one is dead and the other is behind bars serving time for another crime. 

She said Philadelphia police detectives aren’t helping them with what she says should be a reopened case. 

“As of today, I don't think that appetite exists,” she said. 

A police spokesman said that due to the increase in gun violence, cold case detectives are busy helping investigate the current onslaught of homicides. And so, the Barbara Jean Horn case file hasn’t even been pulled. 

For Fahy, that’s disappointing. 

“I think it's crazy that they wouldn't want to try to solve this or help out,” she said, adding that she and her family are raising money to hire a private investigator.

Fahy has an ally in Ogrod. He too wants the real killer to be caught. 

“I want to know who did this. I mean, we have to close this,” he said. 

The initial investigation into Barbara Jean Horn’s 1988 murder went cold. 

It wasn’t until 1992 that two Philly police detectives arrested Ogrod for the crime, saying he confessed. 

But Ogrod maintained during his two trials that he didn’t kill Barbara Jean and that he had been coerced into signing a false confession. 

The jury in the first trial had decided to acquit Ogrod, but one juror shouted that he disagreed and the judge ruled it a mistrial.

In 1996, prosecutors had two jailhouse snitches testify that Ogrod confessed to them that he killed Barbara Jean. A jury found him guilty -- and he was sentenced to death. 

Then in 2018, while investigating the wrongful conviction of Anthony Wright, the DA’s Conviction Integrity Unit found that the detectives in that case had handled other cases that had previously been raised as questionable. One of those cases was Walter Ogrod's. 

Cummings recalled that it became clear to her and Carrie Wood, the lead attorney in review, that the Ogrod investigation was “botched.”

“You got the wrong person. You put them on trial and you convicted them, and then you incarcerated them for a quarter of a century,” she said. 

Her office sought to overturn Ogrod’s conviction. 

Ogrod was released from state prison last June. 

Walter Ogrod
Walter Ogrod, after he was released from jail in 2020 following 28 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

“When I got out, it just, it just came down at once,” he said of the emotional relief. 

But since returning to Northeast Philly, Ogrod says he has struggled to get back on his feet -- figuratively and literally.

He had to get hip replacement surgery in February, and still wobbles in pain when he walks. 

He says sleeping in a thin foam mattress all those years in prison took a hit on his body. 

“You're touching the metal … it's very painful,” he said.

He is collecting unemployment -- and applied for disability payments. He has no other income or savings.

"It's like the state says, 'oh, you proved us wrong. The hell with you. You ain't get nothing for that,'" he said. 

Pennsylvania is one of 14 states that doesn’t compensate the wrongfully convicted. Ogrod would have to sue the government for any monetary relief. 

He’s hoping he can get back to work -- perhaps in trucking which is what he did before his arrest. 

In the meantime, he hopes police will track down Barbara Jean’s real killer.

“The person is out there, has to be caught,” he said. “Because what else are they doing to children out there?”

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