At 5:10 a.m., Carole Varnes likely went outside to start her car, parked in a driveway that ran behind her home on West Oakland Street.
That was part of her new routine. In December, 1993, her shift at the former Medical College of Ohio – where she was an anesthesia technician – changed, requiring her to be at work by 6 a.m. She'd start her car, run back inside for about 20 minutes, and leave home around 5:30 a.m.
By 5:40 a.m. March 11, 1994, Varnes had been shot once in the chest; a neighbor found Varnes, 51, inside her vehicle clutching her purse straps.
More than 20 years later, her death remains unsolved.
“She really was an angel – such a beautiful person inside and out,” said Varnes' daughter Sherry Watson. “Her actions spoke much louder than any words could ever say.”
Varnes and her late-husband, Kenneth Varnes, Sr., raised four children at the home where she died. Years before the shooting, her children tried to coax her out of the neighborhood as they noticed an increase in crime. Once their father died (he was killed in an automobile crash on Sept. 6, 1989), Varnes told her children she felt less safe.
But there, on Oakland, she was surrounded by family. Her nephew, Clarence, lived four doors down; her sister, Barbara, lived less than a block away around the corner.
The morning she died, her son, Rodney, who was then 27, was inside the home. Watson said her brother heard a man's voice and he looked out a back window. There was a scream and the boom of a single shot. He called 911, hung up, and called his uncle who lived around the corner.
The neighbor who found Varnes, at the time, told The Blade she heard a woman scream and a honking horn.
“I opened the front door and didn't see anything,” she said. “Then I saw a dome light on in the car and ran over.”
The neighbor, a registered nurse, checked Varnes' pulse. It was too late. Varnes was pronounced dead at the scene.
Watson, also a nurse, was at work when her husband called at 5:50 a.m. Her uncle told her husband to pick Watson up from work and get to the uncle's home. Watson said she couldn't leave, but her husband insisted and was on his way.
“I began to get a panicked sick feeling in my gut,” Watson said. “I remembered the late-night call from my mother informing me that my dad had been killed in a car accident just a block from our home. I suddenly had the same horrific feeling and panic crept into my gut.”
Watson said the other nurses at the hospital tried to assure her that everything would be fine, but her instincts told her otherwise.
Watson called her aunt and uncle. No answer.
She called her cousin's wife Grace. When she asked what was going on, Grace began to cry.
“All I know is someone was shot,” Grace told her.
Watson called the Medical College of Ohio hoping to reach her mother.
“When the gal answered the phone I asked if I cold speak with Carole Varnes,” Watson said. “ 'Sure,' she replied sounding as though she may have just seen her walk by. I remember feeling a huge sense of relief thinking she made it to work. She's OK.”
When the woman came back on the line, she told Watson her mother had not yet made it to work.
Again, Watson called her aunt. Watson begged to know what happened. Her aunt said her mother was shot.
“Is she dead? Is she dead? Is she dead?” Watson said. She begged. She was relentless.
Yes, her aunt said.
Watson's husband arrived at the hospital, unaware of what happened.
“Oh my god. My mom was shot. She's dead,” Watson recalled telling him. “I will never forget the look on his face. He didn't know.”
A newspaper article from about a week after Varnes' death said police were unable to gather a detailed description of the suspect. Neighbors reported seeing a lone man flee, but had no other information.
“Somebody somewhere must know something. Somebody somewhere has never come forward in 20 years. Somebody somewhere cannot begin to imagine the pain of the unknown,” Watson said.
Anyone with information about Carole Varnes' death is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 419-255-1111.