Corey Parker: Murder of a Beautiful Young Coed

Did you catch my blog last week? Of course you didn’t. I played hooky and took a week off. Two weeks ago, I featured the story of Donald Harvey. Harvey was an Ohio serial killer who stalked hospitals for nearly twenty years before he faced justice. This week, we consider the case of Corey Parker, a young Florida woman who became the victim of an obsession.

Corey Parker

Corey Lynn Parker was a native of Rochester, New York. Like many, she came to Jacksonville, Florida for the sun and water. But, according to the Dateline episode Rear Window, she stayed for the people. She attended college and worked part-time at the Ragtime Tavern in nearby Atlantic Beach. She had had many friends.

Corey Parker (Dateline NBC)
Corey Parker (Dateline NBC)

Corey didn’t go home for Thanksgiving break in 1998. Instead, she stayed in Florida to pick up some extra shifts at the Ragtime Tavern. Wednesday, November 25, Corey met friends at The Ritz, one of her favorite hangouts. The next day, of course, was Thanksgiving Day.

Nobody saw Corey on Thanksgiving but, being busy with the holiday, no one gave that much notice. It wasn’t until she didn’t show up for work on Friday, November 27 that people became worried.

Corey Parker Found Murdered

With Corey a no-show at the Ragtime Tavern, one of her coworkers, a friend, volunteered to go check on her. He went to her nearby apartment, but Corey didn’t answer the door. Sent back a second time, the worker peeked through an opening in the blinds and saw a bloody foot. He raced back to the restaurant to call the police (this was before cell phones).

Corey Parker (Dateline NBC)
Corey Parker (Dateline NBC)

Police quickly arrived and found the young woman dead, lying in a pool of her own blood. It was obviously a homicide; an autopsy would later determine Corey suffered at least 101 stab and slash wounds. Her killer had posed the body in a sexually suggestive manner, but there was no evidence of sexual assault.

The first-floor apartment showed no signs of forced entry. But there was evidence that the killer had entered and left by a window in the kitchen. Police found bloodstains on the kitchen sink and on the inside and outside of that window.

Police Look for Suspects

Despite having forensic evidence, it took nearly two years for police to solve Corey’s murder. Their first suspect was a dishwasher at Ragtime named Eric Jones. Coworkers said Jones had a crush on Corey and, indeed, it seemed to be more of an obsession. In the days leading up to the murder, Jones had been calling Corey repeatedly.

Eric Jones was a dishwasher at the Ragtime Tavern. Police cleared him as a suspect. (Cinemaholic)
Eric Jones was a dishwasher at the Ragtime Tavern. Police cleared him as a suspect. (Cinemaholic)

During his interview with police, Jones said some disturbing things. But his DNA did not match the DNA gathered at the crime scene. Detectives decided he was unstable, but not guilty.

Another suspect was Tiffany Zienta. Tiffany was a friend of Corey who had been out with her at the Ritz the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. Tiffany had been close to Corey, so much so that some people believed she had a romantic interest her. Initially helpful, Tiffany quickly hired an attorney and refused to give a DNA sample. However, the DNA collected in Corey’s apartment had X and Y chromosomes, indicating a male donor. Police wrote off Tiffany as a suspect.

Tiffany Zienta (Dateline NBC)
Tiffany Zienta (Dateline NBC)

A Hot Suspect in the Corey Parker Murder

Nearly two years passed. Police tested DNA samples from 38 men who knew Corey, but none matched the sample taken from her apartment. This led investigators to question their initial assumption that Corey knew her attacker. But soon the offer of a $20,000 reward generated a new lead.

Robert Erik Denney (archive.org)
Robert Erik Denney (archive.org)

Robert Denney was 17 at the time and worked in a restaurant only a few miles from Corey’s apartment. Coworkers told investigators that Denney had behaved strangely after Corey’s murder. He came into work crying and said that his son had been killed in a car accident in Texas. But Denney didn’t have a son.

Now suspicious, police quickly determined that Denney lived with his sister in the same complex as Corey Parker. The sister had kicked Denney out because of his odd behavior. It developed that her apartment had a direct view of Corey’s back window. Police found Denney had relocated to Easton, Maryland, where they questioned him.

Without enough evidence for a warrant, investigators tried to obtain Denney’s DNA through subterfuge. However, he took cigarette butts with him and refused to lick an envelope to seal it. Only when detectives shadowing Denney saw him spit several times on the ground did they manage to get his DNA. It was a match.

Epilogue

It took a jury only 45 minutes to find Robert Erik Denney guilty of murder. He was sentenced to life in prison. He continues to deny killing Corey Parker.

Robert Denney denies killing Corey Parker in a television interview from prison (Dateline NBC)
Robert Denney denies killing Corey Parker in a television interview from prison (Dateline NBC)

When Robert Denney was eight years old, his brother, Patrick, killed a woman by stabbing her 98 times. Some postulate that Robert Denney was trying to one-up his brother when he killed Corey Parker.

You can watch the Dateline episode Rear Window at nbcnews.com.

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