Michelle Martinko (Courtesy The Gazette)

Michelle Marie Martinko

Homicide

Michelle Marie Martinko
18 YOA
Westdale Mall
Cedar Rapids, IA
Linn County
Case Number: 85-06117
December 19, 1979

 

UPDATES

 

April 10, 2014: Cedar Rapids Police Department Media Release

The Cedar Rapids Police Department is requesting additional assistance from a Linn County Crime Stoppers tipster who provided investigators with information about the December 1979 Michelle Martinko homicide.

On December 16, 2013, the Police Department received information from an individual that led investigators to a possible suspect. Investigators followed up on the lead, however the possible suspect’s DNA did not match the DNA that is on file that belongs to Martinko’s killer.

Nonetheless, the information provided was credible and investigators believe that further legitimate information from this individual will be beneficial to the case. To further enhance the investigation, this individual is being encouraged to contact Detective Doug Larison at (319) 286-5412 or cellular phone (319) 521-6003. Investigators have further questions that they would like to ask the tipster. This individual can continue to remain anonymous.

This individual can also call Linn County Crime Stoppers at 1-800-CS-CRIME (272-7463) or text CRIMES (274637) and in the message/subject, type 5227 and your tip. You can continue to trade information with an investigator. Text STOP to opt out at any time.

If the information provided leads to an arrest, this individual may be eligible for a reward. All calls are anonymous.


On Feb. 18, 2014, Det. Doug Larison released the following information regarding Michelle Martinko’s case. Email image provided by Robert J. Riley.

det-larison-re-michelle-martinko


Case summary compiled by Jody Ewing

Around 4 a.m. on December 20, 1979, police found 18-year-old Michelle Marie Martinko — her face and chest stabbed repeatedly — in her family’s Buick in the Westdale Mall parking lot. The Kennedy High School senior had driven to the newly opened mall after a school choir banquet to shop for a new winter coat.

Wounds on the teen’s hands showed she had fought her killer, but she was not sexually assaulted or robbed. Detectives found no weapon or fingerprints to identify her killer.

Michelle’s car (Courtesy photo Cedar Rapids Gazette)

During the original investigation, a list of more than 80 potential suspects was compiled. More than 60 were tested and eliminated, and many of the suspects have died in the years following the murder.

DNA Profile Procured

Using new technology, the Cedar Rapids Police Department was able to procure the suspect’s DNA in 2006.

At a news conference held Oct. 2, 2006, cold case investigators Det. Doug Larison and Det. Aboud announced they had developed new evidence in the 1979 murder and asked the public for assistance in identifying a male with a cut on his hand during the time of the murder. A $10,000 reward — half of which was donated by Martinko’s family — was offered for information leading to the subject’s arrest.

In the two years following the announcement, police received a number of calls, a few which Det. Larison said provided new information that helped eliminate a few more suspects. None of the leads it produced, however, uncovered a DNA match to the blood sample.

m-martinko-baton-uniformCourtesy photo Robert J. Riley
This September 1979 photo — taken just three months before Michelle Martinko’s murder — shows her in her Kennedy High School Baton Twirling uniform.

“We would love to solve this case, and we have not given up hope,” Larison said in a 2008 interview with the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

“If they’re not alive, you can always get a sample of their mother’s DNA, but if they’re dead, their parents probably are, too,” he said.

Albert and Janet Martinko died believing they knew who killed their daughter, but there was no evidence tying that man to the crime.

Police believe the blood that was found came from a cut on the killer’s hand. Because the investigation is ongoing, police wouldn’t say where they found the blood or how they know the killer cut his hand. But the detectives are certain the blood will lead them to the person who stabbed Martinko to death.


KCRG-TV9 (Cedar Rapids) news report on the 30th anniversary of Michelle Martinko’s unsolved murder. Air date: Dec. 20, 2009.

“There is no doubt whatsoever that this is the killer’s blood,” Larison said. “All we need is a name. And once we get a DNA match, we’ll have our killer.”

The DNA information has been uploaded to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a national database that houses DNA profiles developed from crime scenes. When profiles of convicted offenders are uploaded to the database, CODIS searches its current index system to see if the offender’s DNA matches a profile in an unsolved crime.

When the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) established a Cold Case Unit in 2009, Michelle Martinko’s murder was one of approximately 150 cases listed on the Cold Case Unit’s new website as those the DCI hoped to solve using latest advancements in DNA technology.

Although federal grant funding for the DCI Cold Case Unit was exhausted in December 2011, the DCI continues to assign agents to investigate cold cases as new leads develop or as technological advances allow for additional forensic testing of original evidence.

The DCI remains committed to the resolution of Iowa’s cold cases and will continue to work diligently with local law enforcement partners to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice for the victims and their families.

Two More Suspects Eliminated

When 61-year-old Dennis Lee McKee — once considered a prime suspect in Martinko’s murder — died on Jan. 15, 2012 at the Iowa State Penitentiary Hospice Care Unit in Fort Madison, some wondered whether he’d taken a secret to the grave.

McKee, a convicted rapist serving a life sentence for an unrelated sexual crime, died a natural death from metastatic colon cancer. According to a Gazette article published Jan. 17, 2012, McKee was convicted in that case on evidence that he broke into a woman’s Cedar Rapids home Nov. 12, 1979, held a knife to her neck, threatened to kill her sleeping children and then taped her hands behind her back and gagged her.

McKee raped and abused her in ways that caused pain more severe than child birth, the Gazette cited, based on court documents.

Michelle Martinko is buried at Cedar Memorial in Cedar Rapids. (Courtesy photo Laura Segall/The Gazette)

On Monday, Jan. 16, 2012, Cedar Rapids police Sgt. Cristy Hamblin said detectives had access to McKee’s DNA through the prison system, and that McKee would have been charged had his DNA matched evidence recovered from the scene of Martinko’s homicide.

In January 2013, an anonymous tipster sent a handwritten letter to Iowa Cold Cases, alleging Martinko’s brother-in-law was responsible for her murder. We at ICC passed along the information to the Cedar Rapids Police Department’s Cold Case Unit. Cold Case Investigator Jeff Mellgren responded and told ICC the subject in question “was eliminated as a suspect by virtue of DNA.”

Defrosting Cold Cases, a cold case blog founded by Alice de Sturler, featured Michelle’s case as the “Case of the Month” for December 2013.

Through blogging and social media, de Sturler hopes to shine a new light on the cases featured on her blog.

Michelle Martinko’s case remains unsolved.


From KGAN-TV CBS 2 Iowa, Air date April 10, 2014

Information Needed

If you have any information regarding Michelle Martinko’s unsolved murder, please contact Det. Doug Larison at (319) 286-5412, email d.larison@cedar-rapids.org, or contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010 or email dciinfo@dps.state.ia.us.

Sources:

 

Copyright © 2014 Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

Add a Comment

10 Responses to Michelle Martinko

  1. Emily says:

    So awful that this case has gone unsolved for so long. Hope it gets solved soon.

  2. Adam says:

    This is a call to action:

    I have telephoned the police in Cedar Rapids about a suspect that through crime pattern analysis was very likely the perpetrator of this crime.

    This perpetrator was tried and convicted of many heinous crimes from 1983-87. A federal police agency picked him up for a series of non-violent crimes and discovered a mountain of evidence that he had been committing violent crimes against women for many, many years.

    DNA was in its infancy at the time – and while this perpetrator likely had his DNA taken by a specific (unknown to me) police force it likely was not placed in CODIS due to state laws on mandatory processing of DNA not being in place at the time.

    The Cedar Rapids PD – at first highly skeptical of my suggested suspect – came to believe that I very possibly could be correct about this suspect. That said, due to the realities of police work – the response I received from the CRPD was something to the effect that if I wanted prove that this suspect was the perpetrator of the Martinko murder I would have to go out in the world and figure out which police force in America had this particular suspect’s DNA on file.

    I am not a police officer, nor am I family member. I do not have the power to compel the police to answer my requests nor the standing to get the CRPD to respond in a more pro-active fashion.

    I am seeking a family member or a close personal friend of Michelle Martinko to contact me and I will help them understand how and why I have come to the conclusions that this particular suspect would be well worth the time and effort to vet.

    The suspect is dead now – he died in prison. But he was the father to 3 biological daughter. DNA experts that I have pursued on this specific question of whether a daughter’s DNA would be sufficient have responded that it would be absolute and definite if compared to the DNA on file with the CRPD. Authorities know how to locate and contact said daughters – and I have ample reason to believe that they would cooperate.

    This case is imminently solvable now – I need the help of a family member or a close friend of the victim. If someone comes forward to help in this way they would very likely set forth a domino effect with this suspect’s DNA being placed into CODIS.

    I am signed on to receive follow up emails to this site so any response by said family members or friends will be received by me and I will pursue that. Thank you.

  3. Robert Riley says:

    Adam
    my son is writing a story and an editorial on this case for the Kennedy High School paper, The Torch. One of his goals is for Kennedy to allow a memorial plaques to be hung in her memory. We have been in close contact with Michelle’s sister, now retired and traveling with her husband. In fact we just talked for about 3 more hours this evening. What we are proposing to do is write an in- depth narrative of this case, along with a biographical sketch of this girl- because, let’s face it- most of us who have remembered this case din’t know her- what was she like, etc? I think many would like to see other pictures, know more of her life. Also, I believe the case is ripe to be solved. Her sister is genuinely surprised that so many think of her sister 34 years later, and she has a lot to say about the case.
    With that said, I wold love to talk – maybe compare some notes and work together on this thing. I won’t be able to visit the family until they return to the country in May, but will definiteley be able to act as a conduit with them.would you consider emailing me?
    rriley@solutionsco.net

  4. Detective Larison says:

    The person that Adam speaks about is not the killer. He has been eliminated through DNA.

  5. Jody Ewing says:

    Thank you, Detective Larison, for clarifying that the individual Adam referenced has been eliminated through DNA. We’ve always hoped conversations through the comments may one day unearth a small detail someone had forgotten or never mentioned, but it’s so important our readers know when persons of interest have been cleared. I appreciate your taking time to provide the update. You have one of the toughest jobs out there, and we extend our thanks for all you do in behalf of victims and their families.

    All best,
    Jody at ICC

  6. I add a thank you to Doug Larison, if DeBardeleben’s DNA has indeed been verified to have been added to CODIS. I certainly believe that if it has, there are a number of cases that have DNA evidence that could be solved by that. In the case of Michelle, it is good to at least be able to “cross out” suspects. Also a great thank you to Jody for keeping this site going and keeping the memory and hope alive for these people who constantly live in our hearts. May 2014 be the year we get some answers for some of these families….

  7. Kim says:

    I was 9 when this case happened and I remember it pretty well, it was a very shocking and heinous crime. FWIW, I don’t think Michelle was the victim of a serial killer or a victim of a robbery or rape attempt, I think she knew her murderer. Possibly there was some sort of romantic angle involved, either she’d dated her killer and they’d broken up, or he’d asked her out and she rejected him, something along those lines. She was stabbed 50+ times in the face and upper chest and that indicates serious rage and overkill to me by someone very angry with her.

    My amateur detective theory is that it was someone who had access to the mall after hours, like a security guard or a store manager, or maybe a mall janitor. One of the rumors I heard was that there was evidence found in an employee’s only area of the mall and a quick search of newspaper archives in the days after her death does reveal that police were processing an area inside the mall because they’d found evidence, but it doesn’t say what the evidence was and it is not mentioned in subsequent articles. I also heard Michelle worked at the JCPenney’s store and if that’s true, she probably would’ve had some contact with mall security in some form, like maybe they’d walked her out to her car at night after she got off work.

    According to the articles I’ve read, when she was seen in the mall by her classmates, they said they didn’t notice anyone following her, but truthfully, who’d notice a security guard lurking the busy crowds in a brand new mall just a few nights before Christmas? Michelle was flustered she couldn’t find the store where she was supposed to try on a coat her parents were buying her and maybe the guard saw she was upset and followed her to her car in hopes of talking to her. If she knew him, she might’ve been comfortable letting him into her car…I don’t think her killer was hiding in the vehicle and ambushed her, nor do I think he accosted her in the lot, I think she knew him and let him into the car willingly. Once inside her car, he probably suggested they leave the lot for better privacy and she agreed. In that era, Westdale was on the fringes of Cedar Rapids and the surrounding area hadn’t been all that developed yet, so a quick two minute drive would’ve put you out in the rural areas pretty fast. I think once away from the mall, whatever discussion she and her killer had turned heated and he killed her, not premeditatively because that hinges on a lot of coincidental aspects, but out of anger and rage. Police said they think the murder happened inside the vehicle, not anywhere else, and she fought hard for her life, evidenced by the defensive wounds on her hands.

    Here’s where it gets interesting. According to the articles, she was last seen in the mall at around 9 p.m., and when she didn’t come home by 1 a.m., her father went looking for her. She was reported missing to police by 2 a.m. and the car and her body was found at 4 a.m.. Presumably her father and the police would’ve searched the mall lot first in their initial attempts to find her because that’s where she was last known to be at, but the car wasn’t evidently on the lot during those searches because it would’ve been found at those points. So where was it during that 7 hour span from when she was last seen to when she was found? It seems improbable that her killer would’ve stayed with the car and body for 7 hours on a rural road in December temperatures because the longer that car was out in the open, the more he was at risk for discovery. Plus, how was he able to move the car off and back onto the lot without someone noticing the activity, not to mention he wouldn’t have known if police had been alerted to Michelle’s disappearance and therefore might’ve had increased presence at the mall. Of course, in that era, because police had no reason to suspect foul play and likely chalked her disappearance up to her being out with friends and forgetting to call home, there probably was not a heavy police presence to start with, especially if they didn’t find the car on their initial drive through the mall lot, but still, the killer didn’t know that. He also risked having someone notice his own car on the lot as well, and while that wouldn’t have been overly unusual, I would’ve thought police might’ve been suspicious if they’d seen his car during their original search of the lot.

    But now a security guard would have access to the various loading docks around the mall, plus he would’ve likely had access to the standalone Montgomery Ward’s auto service center on the mall property, so he could’ve driven the car back after killing her and stashed it in one of the docks or the MW auto center, then waited until the coast was clear and driven it out and abandoned it. He also would’ve likely been aware of the search for her and could’ve kept tabs on police activity going on around the mall, plus no one would’ve questioned a mall security vehicle or the guard’s private vehicle being on the lot after the mall closed, nor would anyone have questioned a guard working late like that. And police have said they know her car was moved from one spot in the lot to another, but they won’t say how they know that, but the map I found in a couple of articles indicates both spots were near the JCPenney area, which was where it was rumored there was evidence recovered from an interior part of the mall only employees had access to.

    I know my theory may be pure bunk and there’s a lot of unanswered variables, like why didn’t a co-worker notice the guard was gone during the time the murder was committed and how did he get back in without someone noticing his bloody clothing, but still, the theory has merits.

  8. RJ says:

    Kim
    interesting- I’ve been asking some of these same questions. Though it would be nice for it to have been a match, the recent DeBardeleben theory has a few holes…I too think it was a passionate killing, and someone she knew.
    Not much in the public arena to go on as far as facts in the case…the paper did mention the evidence in the mall, but never mentioned again…the moved car is very odd..Barnes said that she was supposed to meet someone for a date that evening-not sure if that is correct, or who said that-her family says she was expected home by 10, was a school night, test the next day…paper says she was asked at mall by some friends to see a movie…it would be interesting to know the story of the supposed “date”, who saw where she parked at 7:00 and when the car was brought back where it was. Why were all the doors locked except one of the back ones? Family told me 19 stab wounds- curious as to the comment of over 50 (not a challenge- just checking).
    As for the police, I would be surprised if there was more than one on the case by that time- like you said-probably thought it was just a girl on a date out late…so I can’t imagine there would have been like a stakeout at the mall or anything-if Albert drove thru and didn’t see the car, then it obviously was put back -can’t imagine he would miss the car, or not drive all thru the mall lot- by 1 am, the lot would have been almost deserted, right?
    Lots of questions…

  9. Kim says:

    RJ-

    It’s the December 28, 1979 edition of the Cedar Rapids Gazette that mentions police were processing evidence from a store inside Westdale. No further mention of the evidence in any other articles that I can find so far.

    I apologize for any confusion, I should have clarified in my post that it was an acquaintance of mine who’d worked with Michelle at JCPenney that told me Michelle had been stabbed 50+ times. I also thought I’d read that same info in one of the news articles as well, so I’m trying to search the archives to verify, but not having much luck so far. It was also that same acquaintance who told me they’d found evidence inside the mall in an ‘employees only’ area near JCPenney.

    From what I’ve read in the Gazette archives, she wasn’t there at Westdale to meet anyone to go on a date, she was there to try on a coat her parents were buying her for Christmas. Before going to the mall, she’d been at a banquet for the Kennedy choir over at the Sheraton Inn, and once the banquet let out, she went to the mall. Some classmates were at the mall as well, waiting for the movie to start over at the nearby theater, and when she ran into them, they invited her to attend the movie with them. She declined and borrowed some change from them to call her parents to see what store the coat was at, and it was at that point her classmates said she was upset because she couldn’t find the store. Whether she made that call home or not, it’s not clear. The detail about all the car doors except one rear door being unlocked is definitely puzzling and I’m not sure what part it plays in the case…were the doors originally unlocked when the killer first got into her vehicle and then because he maybe couldn’t remember if they were locked or unlocked, he decided to lock them when he ditched the car, but skipped the one rear door?

    The map I found in the January 25, 1980 Gazette indicates her car was evidently first parked in the northwest lot on one side of JCPenney’s, facing Wilson Ave. That was probably where she parked the car to go into the mall…it’s not the lot directly in front of Penney’s main entrance, it’s more in front of the mall’s main entrance, if my memory of how Westdale is laid out serves me right. The car was found in the far edge of the northeast lot on the other side of Penney’s, the lot runs along the Edgewood Rd. side and was closer to the standalone strip mall that held the Econofoods store. So both spots are around the JCPenney area, just on different sides.

  10. Kim says:

    Hope Jody doesn’t mind…I’m bumping this profile page to the top of the recent comments in hopes that the anonymous tipster the police are referring to in the media release might see it and get in contact with them. The additional information they’re hoping tipster can provide might very well solve this case and finally bring closure for Michelle’s family.

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