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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.
At 4 a.m. on Thursday, December 20, 1979, police found 18-year-old Michelle Marie Martinko — her face and chest stabbed repeatedly — in her family’s tan 1972 Buick 4-door in Cedar Rapids’ 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.
According to Police Chief Raymond K. Baker, the girl’s parents, Albert and Janet Martinko of 4312 Woodfield Lane NE, had reported their daughter missing at 2 a.m. Baker said the parents called later and said they’d learned Michelle had gone to Westdale, and officers were dispatched to search that area.
They found the car parked in the northeast section of the parking lot of Westdale Mall shopping center on the city’s southwest side, the Gazette reported on Dec. 20, 1979.
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.
Detectives found no weapon or fingerprints to identify her killer, but 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.
Kennedy High’s principal, Michael Clover, told the Gazette Michelle would have been at the annual Kennedy Concert Choir banquet at the Sheraton Inn until around 7 p.m. He said Martinko was seen at the shopping mall about a half-hour later.
Martinko was scheduled to graduate from Kennedy High School in the spring. She’d participated in the school’s women’s choir and the Concert Choir, as well as in dramatic productions.
“She was an above-average student,” Clover told the Gazette. “She was quiet, but attractive.”
Police said they had few leads and appealed to the public for help.
“We know that she was all right up to about 8 p.m., but we don’t know what happened after that,” Assistant Chief of Police James Barnes said. “So we are asking that if anyone saw her after that, if anyone saw someone with her, call us. If there’s any information at all, call us.”
Chief Baker told the Gazette they were starting at “ground zero,” which meant detectives were interviewing the girl’s friends and a number of young people. Some were seen entering the detective bureau Thursday morning, accompanied by their parents.
On June 19, 1980, police released a composite sketch of the man they believed stabbed Martinko. Police developed the sketch based on descriptions provided by two witnesses.
The sketch indicated a white male 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 eliminated.
In the years following the murder, many suspects died.
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. George 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.
“We would love to solve this case, and we have not given up hope,” Larison said in a 2008 interview with the 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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
Michelle Martinko was born Oct. 6, 1961 in Cedar Rapids to Albert and Janet Martinko. She was found dead in her car in the Westdale Mall parking lot in Cedar Rapids on Dec. 20, 1979.
Michelle was a senior at Kennedy High School and lived at 4312 Woodfield Lane NE. She was a member of St. Pius X Catholic Church, Concert Choir, a band twirler and “Campus Life.”
In addition to her parents, Michelle was survived by one sister, Janelle Stonebraker of Davenport; and her grandmother, Mrs. Emmy Rothweiler of Cedar Rapids.
Funeral services were held at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Pius X Catholic Church with the Rev. James J. Goedken officiating. Burial was at Cedar Memorial Park Cemetery. Visitation was held at Turner Chapel East from noon Friday until 10 a.m. Saturday. A prayer service was held at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the funeral home.
If you have any information regarding Michelle Martinko’s unsolved murder, please contact Det. Doug Larison at (319) 286-5412, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010 or email email@example.com.