Luke Nozicka and Alex IvanisevicExactly 39 years after Michelle Marie Martinko was killed and left in her family's car in a Cedar Rapids mall parking lot, police arrested and charged a Manchester man with first-degree murder.
Des Moines Register
Published 1:18 PM EST Dec 20, 2018
Des Moines Register
Published 1:18 PM EST Dec 20, 2018
Police arrested Jerry Lynn Burns, 64, on Wednesday morning in the decades-old fatal stabbing. Burns, who was 25 when Martinko died, will make his first court appearance Thursday morning in Linn County.
In a statement announcing the arrest, police said Burns was questioned at his job Wednesday in Manchester and denied killing Martinko. He could not offer a "plausible explanation" for why his DNA was found at the crime scene, authorities said.
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Wounds on the teen’s hands showed she fought her killer, but the medical examiner’s office said Martinko was found fully clothed and had not been sexually molested. An examination showed she was stabbed at least eight times.
Detectives found no weapon or fingerprints to identify a suspect and said Martinko had not been robbed. Based on the number of stab wounds — particularly to the young woman’s face — police considered the homicide personal in nature.
Using newer technology, Cedar Rapids police were able to procure DNA from case evidence in 2006. Investigators said the man who stabbed Martinko cut his hand and left blood behind.
Since that time, police said Wednesday, detectives covertly obtained DNA from Burns and it matched the DNA evidence they had on file from Martinko's killing.
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Burns was held Wednesday night at the Linn County Jail, records show. He did not yet have an attorney listed in court records who could be reached for comment.
Police Chief Wayne Jerman commended his investigators' persistence in the case and their use of the technology that he said can "aid in the investigation regardless of how long ago the violent act occurred." He described her family as grateful for their efforts.
"The family never gave up hope that this case would be solved," Jerman said.
Elizabeth Laymon, who was high school friends with Martinko, said she vividly remembers the day classmates sobbed after they learned of the stabbing. Laymon said she and Martinko were in a self-defense class together, but added that "no amount of self-defense could have saved her from that."
During an interview with the Des Moines Register, Laymon called the arrest "amazing" news and said she was relieved.
"I am thrilled for her sister, Janelle, and wish her parents were alive to see this," Laymon said. "I am happy Michelle finally gets justice."
Within days of Martinko's killing, police received more than 200 phone calls and letters from people who wanted to help, according to Des Moines Register archives. The police chief at the time, Ray Baker, said the fatal stabbing "outraged the whole community."
Hundreds of people were interviewed and countless leads were followed, police said a year after the slaying. As the investigation slowed, a $10,000 reward was offered.
Then the case went cold.
► Gone Cold: Michelle Martinko of Cedar Rapids, killed in 1979
On June 19, 1980, police released a composite sketch, developed based on descriptions provided by two witnesses, of the man they believed stabbed Martinko. The sketch indicated a white man in his late teens or early 20s, weighing between 165 and 175 pounds, and standing about 6 feet tall.
During the original investigation, detectives compiled a list of more than 80 potential suspects. More than 60 were tested and cleared.
Investigators later sought the services of a company that specializes in DNA phenotyping, which Cedar Rapids police described as the process of predicting physical appearance and ancestry from unidentified DNA evidence.
That company, police said, produced portraits for the associated person of interest. Predictions were made for ancestry and facial features, police said.
Grief from losing their youngest daughter weighed heavily on Martinko's parents, Albert and Janet Martinko, according to news reports in the decades that followed.
► More: Read stories and watch videos about Iowa's unsolved murders, at DesMoinesRegister.com/GoneCold
In September 1986, the Iowa Supreme Court rejected claims made by Martinko's father that the shopping center was negligent because it did not provide "reasonable security" for his daughter, the Register reported at the time.
Both parents have been gone for decades: Martinko's father died in 1995, and her mother died in 1998.
"One of the areas that continues to tug at my heart," Cedar Rapids' police chief said Wednesday during a press conference, "was (Janelle) expressed how sad their parents passed away without knowing who killed their daughter, Michelle."
► Database: Explore an interactive map of Iowa's unsolved murders, dating back to 1847, and learn more about each case from information gathered by Iowa Cold Cases