KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Joel Holbrook was a proud U.S. Army veteran who served in Desert Storm. He continued to serve in the National Guard even after moving to the Kansas City area to work as a corrections officer at the Jackson County Detention Center.
Holbrook's older sister, Connie Sheely, describes him as quiet but funny, someone who loved animals, working with kids, and music. He even played in the U.S. Army band.
"Joel was, he was so much like my dad," Sheely said. "He was six years younger than me and he was my only brother. He was the baby of the family."
Their close-knit family was torn apart during the fall of 1999 when Holbrook was shot and killed inside his Kansas City, Missouri, apartment at 8810 Crystal Lane.
According to a police report, his body was discovered when someone went to investigate a foul smell and found the apartment's front door partially open.
Police were called to the scene and discovered Holbrook's body as well as his apartment in disarray.
More than 21 years later, the crime remains unsolved. KCPD said it's still an "open investigation," but wouldn't say if there had been any recent leads in the case.
"They said they interviewed people at the jail and nothing came up in the investigation there," Sheely said. "They just never found anything as far as we know."
Not having any answers for more than two decades has only added to Holbrook's family's grief.
Sheely said joining Parents of Murdered Children, a national support group for people who have lost a loved one to violent crime, has helped her manage that grief. She's not only received support through the organization, but now she's taken on a leadership role.
While Sheely hasn't worked directly with the families of Kara Kopetsky and Jessica Runions — two murdered Cass County women whose alleged killer, Kylr Yust, goes on trial next week — she does have advice for any murder victim's family ahead of an emotional legal proceeding: Focus on standing up for them.
"Our loved ones cannot go there, cannot attend, cannot speak for themselves, so, as survivors and family members and friends, that’s our job to speak for them," Sheely said.
Although she has not gotten the chance to advocate on behalf of her brother in court, Sheely has attended trials with other families through her association with Parents of Murdered Children.
She said she finds some comfort in the role, though she and her family still have not given up hope that some day they will have answers about what happened to Holbrook inside his apartment on Crystal Lane more than 21 years ago.
"You never really get over it," Sheely said. "You learn how to live with it. You learn how to move on. You learn how to cope and to survive. But you never get over it."
Anyone with information about Holbrook's 1999 murder is asked to call the Greater Kansas City Crime Stoppers Tips Hotline at 816-474-TIPS (8477). All tips are anonymous and could be eligible for a cash reward, if it leads to an arrest and conviction in the case.