Raleigh County cold case solved as man is indicted for the 1981 murder of Beckley school teacher

BECKLEY, WV (WOAY) –  A Raleigh County school teacher was shot to death in her home in August of 1981 on what was supposed to be her wedding day, and since then, Cynthia Miller’s family, friends and loved ones have been waiting for answers. 

Now, a 64-year-old man, who is already doing time in California, has been indicted for Miller’s murder. 

Earl James Robbins is facing five counts of violent crimes in Raleigh County. Aside from the murder indictment and the use of a firearm in the killing, Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney Kristen Keller also announced that in the investigation, West Virginia State Police and the Beckley Police Department were able to also charge him with another Raleigh County case. This one happened before the murder as Robbins was indicted for the 1980 kidnapping, abduction and first degree sexual assault of a minor.

Robbins lived in Southern West Virginia for a period of time but now is in California in prison for other violent crimes. 

“He is in custody in the State of California and is expected to remain there for the foreseeable future,” Keller said. “The process now if for us to file what’s called a detainer and essentially go through an extradition process to get him here.” 

Details are limited as to what led to Robbins as well as his motive or relationship to the victim, but all of these details are expected to come forward in future hearing. 

A task force was formed in 2017 by Beckley Police and State Police to take another look at the case.

Back in 1981, Miller was set to be married to Gary O’Neal, a police officer in Lester, on the following August day when O’Neal came home late that night to find her dead with multiple gunshot wounds at their house on Miller Street in Beckley. 

Because she was a well-liked 27-year-old school teacher, the act of violence seemed random and posed a challenge to solve, but the detectives who have taken over the case in present day give props to the original investigators. 

“It was a huge investigation, and I really have to credit the individuals who worked on this case initially,” Detective Morgan Bragg, with the Beckley Police Department, said. “I have to say we’ve looked at a lot of cold cases, and this was one where they really did their work. They really compiled a massive amount of data and caused us a lot of work, but it was good because had we not had that data we wouldn’t be where we are right now.” 

Although Miller’s parents and then fiancé  are now deceased, her remaining family and those who knew her are celebrating the indictment and will now have some of the answers they have been waiting for. 

Betty Harrah was in Miller’s classroom in seventh grade at Park Junior High and describes Miller as kind-hearted and says she cared about everyone. Harrah still remembers the day when her mother came in to tell her that her beloved teacher had been killed. 

“It was sad. And forty years later, look at me. I mean, the whole news conference I had tears rolling down my cheeks. She was just – she was wonderful,” Harrah said.  

Keller says the extradition process will take time, but Robbins will eventually have to face hearings here in Raleigh County.

If you know any details regarding this case, you are encouraged to contact the Beckley Police Department and Detective Bragg at (304) 256-1720 or the West Virginia State Police and Lt. Bledsoe at (304) 256-6700.

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Anna Saunders
Anna Saunders is a weekend reporter for WOAY. With a diploma from Princeton Senior High School and a mother from Fayette County, she is no stranger to the area. She received a degree in Media Arts and Design from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia and wanted to return home to start her career as a reporter.