Miranda Fenner's killer is out there somewhere. Next week the whole nation will have a chance to help find the murderer.
Miranda's mom, Sherry Fenner, will be featured on "The Montel Williams Show," a national talk show. Since Miranda's Nov. 15, 1998, murder, the Fenner family, led by Sherry, has worked to keep Miranda's name in the public eye in hopes that someone would come forward with information that would lead investigators to her killer or killers.
Miranda was murdered while working at The Movie Store on Main Street in Laurel. The 18-year-old was stabbed repeatedly, including having her throat slashed, but she was able to drag herself through the store to the front entrance, where she was found by passers-by.
Sherry Fenner admits she was an "emotional wreck" as she prepared for and appeared on the show. She also admits that she is skeptical of the powers of the psychic Sylvia Browne, with whom Fenner worked on the program. The bottom line, she said, is that neither of those admissions matters. What is most important, she said, is putting Miranda's story before a national audience.
"I went there with one thing in mind, and I accomplished what I wanted to do," Fenner said. "I hope that someone watches this and goes, 'Oh my God,' " and comes forward with information about the murder.
"Especially with some of the information she (Browne) gave me, it might possibly just give the detectives one more thing that ties them to it."
Fenner said she never would have done the show if it weren't for the efforts of her sister-in-law, Annie Schroeder of Bridger.
Schroeder e-mailed the show about Miranda's story and received a response, Fenner said. Then Schroeder called Fenner on her lunch hour one day to tell her about "The Montel Williams Show" opportunity, and within five minutes, a show representative called Fenner.
Fenner said she was a little guarded during the first calls and pretty skeptical of the experience. She called the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office detectives who have worked on Miranda's case — and who have often been the family's barometer as they try to bring attention to it — and was told that, if appearing on the show was something she could do, to go for it.
The calls launched a whirlwind of emotions and activities. Fenner and Schroeder flew to New York City for three days in late January to do the show. The family also worked with a local, independent film crew to tape about four hours of emotional back story at their home in Laurel.
Fenner said she worked to psyche herself up to work with the psychic.
"The more curious you are, the more time you got on the show," she said. "I knew this was my opportunity. I just kept firing questions at her one after another."
"I kept talking to Sylvia until Montel told me I couldn't talk to her no more," Fenner said with a grin. "It kept going through my mind that I can't have her pause. If she stops, she might lose her focus on Miranda."
Although skeptical of psychic abilities, Fenner said she was intrigued by the specific information Browne provided, including possible clues to the perpetrators and where the murder weapon is hidden.
"Immediately she gave me two names and went on to give me names, ages, kind of where they live, vehicle descriptions and partial license plate numbers," Fenner said.
Browne also gave "very specific details" about where in the store detectives should "take a second look" and said "that Miranda actually said something to someone who found her," Fenner said.
Fenner later noted, "She gave me some very, very specific stuff. I can't help but to be skeptical because I don't really believe in this kind of stuff, but it doesn't matter if I believe."
All the information from Browne has been provided to local detectives, Fenner said. Her sense is that the detectives are waiting to see if they receive responses after the show is aired.
Laurel Police Chief Rick Musson said he also is skeptical of psychics, but anything that helps bring the case together is worth the effort.
"We'd like some really solid information to come in," Musson said. "We keep plugging on and pray that the information comes.
"A lot of cases are broken wide open when someone finally says something."
Sheriff's Detective George Jensen said investigators have not given up on solving Miranda's murder.
"We're still getting calls on this case periodically," Jensen said. "We're still checking stuff out, still going forward."
Any information people may have — if they saw something or have been afraid to come forward — it's not too late to call, Jensen said.
"You can't help but to think that it was right there on Main Street and someone saw or heard something they didn't think was important at the time and after a year or so it completely slipped their mind," Jensen said. "Maybe this will jog their memory."
The Fenners have printed bright yellow reward posters with Miranda's photo and the phrase, "Murdered in Montana." The posters have been displayed around the country, and Sherry Fenner took a stack to pass out to the studio audience at "The Montel Williams Show."
Initially, a staff person told Fenner that he didn't know if they "did things like that."
In a fashion typical of Sherry Fenner — kindly insisting on people remembering Miranda — she said to the man, "You don't do things like that, or you haven't yet?" The posters were distributed to the audience.
Fenner said she knows that the show "used me for ratings" but thinks that she left on a level playing field.
"I feel like I used that opportunity to the biggest benefit," she said.
Contact Becky Shay at firstname.lastname@example.org or 657-1231.