ELWOOD, Ind. -- On Oct. 16, 1965, Janis Thornton's Tipton High School classmate, Olene Emberton, had dropped off a date late in the evening. Emberton's brother found her car parked halfway between the six blocks from her date's house to her own, and her nude body was found the next day at the side of the road.
After taking a criminology class in the mid-1980s, Thornton, a former journalist who now serves as office manager at the Elwood Chamber of Commerce, shared with her family her desire to write a book about the case.
"They told me what a stupid idea it was. My dad said leave it alone."
Thornton, who most recently co-wrote the pictorial history book, "Images of America: Elwood," with Elwood Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Marcy Fry, didn't take her father's advice. After more than a decade in the works, she late last year published "Too Good a Girl," focusing on the cold case that rocked the community where she grew up.
The autopsy on Emberton was inconclusive, with the coroner saying that according to the condition of her body, she should have been alive to tell what happened to her.
"It's something that stuck with me. It stuck with all of us," she said.
With the skills she learned in a criminology class and as a journalist, Thornton dug in about 2007. She called Emberton's family and friends and hunted down the investigating officers.
At first, Emberton's mother asked her not to publish the book, so it gathered dust until a couple of years ago when the last surviving member of the family gave the green light.
Even with all of Thornton's work, the case remains unsolved.
"I didn't write the book to solve it. I wrote it so we never forget," she said. "I have my theory. I wanted the readers to make up their own minds."
Thornton also wrote the book to start the Olene Emberton Memorial Community Grantmaking Fund through the Tipton Community Foundation. Anyone who contributed $100 received a free copy of "Too Good a Girl," which raised nearly $43,000, including matching grants.
"I didn't want to make money on this book. It was too personal, too tragic," she said. "It feels good to turn something so tragic into something good."
Fry, who hired Thornton three years ago, said her real title should be "Director of First Impressions."
"When she interviewed it was just her personality and her background, and we just hit it off. You just run into people that you talk to and feel like you've been friends for life," she said. "When people come in, she's the first person that they meet. She has an amazing personality that is warm and welcoming when they come into the Chamber."
Recently, the two collaborated on the pictorial history book "Images of America: Elwood."
"Even though she lives in Tipton, she really has grounded herself in Elwood," Fry said. "Not only does she work here, she took it on to learn about the community."
Thornton's skills as a writer and in public relations and social media also have been a bonus when it comes to promoting the chamber's events, she said.
"She's into all that social media stuff. She knows how to go online and grab those people. We are blessed to have her right here with us."
Dixie Ihnat, who was quoted in "Too Good a Girl," has been friends with Thornton since middle school.
"The last four or five years we talk constantly and go places and have rekindled our old friendship," she said. "She's involved. She's the one who plans the get-togethers for the people we went to school with. She's one of those people that goes to plays, going to movies, that's her forte. We do Beef and Boards. She enjoys that a great deal."
Ihnat described Thornton as humble about her accomplishments.
"She doesn't want a lot of acclaim for the things that she does," she said. "She has a real talent."
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Janis Thornton's next book, "No Place Like Murder," a compilation of historic true crime stories that happened between 1869 and 1950, is scheduled to be published in 2020 by Indiana University Press.