Family and friends of three women slain in the mid-1980s want a state judge to unseal court records and lift the gag order on a former Salt Lake police officer in a bid to find out who killed the women.

The Salt Lake Police Department's failure to solve the 8-year-old murders and former officer Frank Hatton-Ward's claim that the department botched the investigation has troubled the family, said Francis Brunyer, grandfather of Tiffany Hambleton.Hambleton, 14, disappeared Feb. 18, 1986. Her body was found several weeks later in a ditch. She had been stabbed in the chest and neck.

"For years we've tried to get something done through the police department. But they've never done anything for us," Brunyer said.

Investigators have given conflicting answers to the family's questions or have simply refused to answer questions, he said.

Hatton-Ward told reporters in May 1989 that he believed Hambleton and three other women were killed by the same people, possibly members of a local gang. He also said police investigators failed to follow several leads he and others provided in the cases.

Hatton-Ward was fired five months later for "insubordination and other grounds."

He has since sued the police department over his dismissal.

The families and a friend of the three women filed a motion Thursday seeking to intervene in Hatton-Ward's lawsuit. A state judge dismissed the suit, but Hatton-Ward has asked the judge to reconsider the decision. Arguments on his motion are scheduled for October.

"We formed our own little team looking for the truth," said Danny Gallegos, father of Christine Gallegos. His daughter, 18, was shot twice in the face and stabbed several times in May 1985.

Gallegos, Carla Maxwell and Lisa Strong were all killed with the same gun. Strong was shot once while walking home one evening. Maxwell was slain while working in a convenience store in Davis County.

Maxwell's family is not involved in the case.

But Hatton-Ward, Salt Lake police officers John Ilk and Greg Chase and the two families believe members of a gang called The Chosen Few were responsible for the killings.

Joan Pearson, one of Strong's closest friends, also believes police botched the investigation, ignoring evidence that pointed to gang members. Strong's parents are dead.

Last year, the families asked Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard to investigate their suspicions after Salt Lake police investigators refused to take them seriously.

However, Salt Lake Police Chief Ruben Ortega refused to turn the unsolved cases over to the county.

Ortega and city investigators fear the embarrassment of having county investigators solve four crimes they couldn't solve, family members told reporters.

Ortega could not be reached for comment Thursday morning.

Kennard has told reporters that he can't undertake an investigation without the cooperation of the city's police investigators.

The families believe the women's unsolved cases are now victims of police-department politics.

"I think the police department is trying to cover up problems from way back," Brunyer said. "I think the whole thing is political."

When Ortega blocked the family's attempt to get the county involved, Gallegos sought help from the American Civil Liberties Union and the FBI.

"All of these girls' civil rights have been violated to the max" by the department's failure to solve the crimes, he said.

But the FBI said it couldn't get involved until Ortega sought its assistance, and the ACLU advised Gallegos to hire a lawyer.

So he did. The families and Pearson have hired civil rights attorney Ross C. Anderson. "I felt like I couldn't get help anywhere until I met Rocky Anderson," Gallegos said.

Anderson, a longtime nemesis of the city police department, has filed several previous lawsuits against the department on behalf of citizens who say city officers beat them.

He recently settled one suit, securing more than $300,000 and a job with the city for his client.

But the city will try to block the families' bid to intervene in Hatton-Ward's suit. "We believe the investigation of these murders is an ongoing investigation," said Steven A. Allred, chief deputy city attorney. "We don't want anything to jeopardize that investigation."

The families' involvement might do that, he said. The city sought a gag order prohibiting Hatton-Ward to discuss the slayings with anyone because investigators believed Hatton-Ward's comments were harming the investigation, Allred said.

"Judge (Anne) Stirba has written a letter to my clients saying she would consider a motion to unseal the court file," Anderson said.