Phillip Geans is behind bars for the murder of his 16-year-old classmate, Theresa Burns, whose body was found inside her home in Mishawaka, Indiana.
On the morning of Jan. 11, 1988, Theresa was in class at Mishawaka High School when she started her menstrual cycle. She needed to change her clothes, so she got permission from school administrators to leave the school.
Theresa got on the TRANSPO bus and arrived at her home on Dittman Street at around 11:30 a.m. She then called her boyfriend, Shawn Matthews, who was at school at the time, and told him what had happened.
They confabulated for 10 to 15 minutes before the doorbell rang, according to WSBT.
Matthews stayed on the phone while she answered the door. When she returned to the phone, she told him that someone wanted to use the phone.
They continued their conversation but were interrupted by the doorbell again. However, this time, Theresa and her boyfriend said their goodbyes, and she hung up the phone—that was the last time he would ever hear from her.
At approximately 5 p.m. that same day, Theresa was found dead. Her brother discovered her half-naked body on the living room floor; she was covered in blood.
It was reported that her shirt had been pulled over her shoulders and her ripped panties were wrapped around her right leg.
Her body was transported to the medical examiner’s office in South Bend, Indiana, where Dr. David Jentz performed an autopsy. The results revealed that Theresa had been shot six times in the head and neck with a .22 caliber handgun.
In 1988, DNA analysts tested Theresa’s bra, panties, shirt, and jeans for evidence, but there were no traces of skin cells, seminal fluid, or any type of DNA.
The articles of clothing were re-tested in 2010, but the results were the same.
Without evidence linking to a suspect, Theresa Burns’ murder remained unsolved for 25 years.
Her case was later reopened, and in 2013, the St. Joseph County Metro Homicide Unit began investigating her case.
During their investigation, they uncovered that Phillip Geans made an alarming statement about Theresa’s murder while at a party with his friends and peers.
He said he was going to be a suspect in the killing.
Craig Whitfield, who was an investigator in the case, testified that Geans made that statement after police learned that he owned a .22 revolver—the same as the murder weapon.
What Geans may not have known was that his stepfather found the gun in his bedroom and turned it over to the police. It was later uncovered that the gun matched the ejector rod found at the crime scene.
On Dec. 13, 2013, Geans was arrested and charged in connection to Theresa’s murder. He was booked into the county jail in South Bend, where he was held without bond, according to WTHR.
While he was being booked, three correctional officers at the St. Joseph County Jail testified that Geans showed mixed emotions. Sometimes he was happy, and other times he was angry and agitated.
16 News Now reported that one of the officers stated that while Geans was crying, he said, “Theresa, I love you. I’m sorry, Theresa, I love you.”
Another officer testified that on one occasion, Geans looked at the ceiling and said, “Please forgive me, Jesus.”
He was placed on suicide watch after he told the officers he had a “hard, rough life and that his girl, Theresa Burns, was murdered many years ago.”
The officers also stated that he would often talk about a particular gun and ballistics testing.
Those conversations also included a girl named Theresa, whom he claimed to love. “It was like he was trying to tell me a story,” one of the corrections officers stated.
Phillip Geans’ trial began in September 2015. Prosecutors called multiple witnesses to the stand, including his former friends and classmates.
They testified that they saw Geans parading a .22 caliber handgun at a party, several weeks after Theresa was found dead.
His ex-girlfriend and a childhood friend both testified that he confessed to killing Theresa. He purportedly said, “Yeah, I killed her. What the (expletive) does it matter?”
After the trial, prosecutors determined that on the morning of Jan. 11, 1988, Geans went to Theresa’s house and rang the doorbell. She answered the door and let him inside, according to the South Bend Tribune.
What was said between the two remains unknown, but what police know is that Geans shot and killed Theresa with a .22 caliber handgun he had stolen from an elderly woman’s home the year prior.
A motive for the killing remains unknown.
In September 2015, a jury of eight men and six women found Phillip Geans guilty of murdering Theresa Burns.
The victim’s brother told WNDU that “everything was stagnant for 25 years, and somehow, shortly after our mom passes away and my dad passes away, all of a sudden things are happening. Coincidence? Maybe. We think that our parents were there passing things along.”
Three months later, on Dec. 4, 2015, Geans was sentenced to 60 years in prison. He will be eligible for release after 26 years.