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.
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.
Courtesy 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.”