I bring you this column out of my pure fascination with cold cases, forensics, police work, and all things mysterious. As an active duty Police Officer, I hold an interest in all cases especially those that bring justice to light in the end. The purpose of this column is to tell the story of how technology and forensics can play a key role in solving a case even if it has been cold for decades, giving hope to those who may be in the middle of a tough case that has lead to sleepless nights. I have been there, and have experienced the constant thought process of how a case could be solved, questioning what is missing and going over the evidence numerous times. I hope you find these cases as intriguing and motivating as I do, and in honor of the Holiday season, I would like to give you a present: a double header of Christmas cold cases.
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Spokane Washington, Christmas Day, 1986. 62 year old Dorothy Burdette sits alone enjoying a drink in the Mayfair Cocktail Lounge located near her home. She is approached by a man in his late 30’s. He begins chatting her up, showing her kindness and affection, even going as far as to compare her to his late mother. Witnesses saw Burdette leave with him, and unfortunately she was never seen again. On December 26th, Burdette’s body was found beneath Interstate 90 in the High Bridge Park area of Spokane. She was wrapped in a blanket, most likely dumped there after being murdered. She had apparently been raped, beaten, and strangled. Investigators collected her clothing and the blanket while processing the scene. Though witness statements were taken and composite sketches were made, no suspects were identified and the case became as cold as a Spokane Winter. Burdette's murder wouldn't receive any more notable attention for nearly 20 years. In 2005 Burdette's son asked Detectives to look into her case again.
From the 1960's to the mid 2000's, a man by the name of Gary Trimble led a life of crime. He was a transient in Washington on the 1980's and ended up in prison in 1989 for robbing a 75 year old woman at knife-point. After his release in 1995 eventually returned to his home state of Montana where he would continue his misdeeds. In 2007 Trimble was charged and convicted of felony intimidation after threatening violence against a woman he claimed owed him money, forcing her to write him a check. Trimble lucked out however, having his entire sentenced suspended, with the provisions he pay restitution to the victim and attend drug counseling. Also, as is the norm with felony convictions, Trimble was required to submit a DNA sample for entry to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). Trimble would fail to attend counseling and pay the necessary restitution, eventually becoming a probation absconder in 2009.
In 2005, Spokane Detectives reopened the case as Burdette's son requested. Detectives realized there was likely DNA evidence on the blanket and clothing collected from the scene and submitted them to the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab. Over the next few years, the lab was able to obtain DNA samples from the items and establish a DNA profile for a male, however there were no matches in CODIS at the time. On October 21st, 2010, CODIS contacted the Detectives to notify them Gary Trimble's recently submitted DNA sample was a match to the Burdette evidence. Wasting no time, Detectives a drafted a first-degree murder warrant for Trimble and, and Montana Deputies were able to locate him the following day. Trimble was extradited to Washington, and in 2012 received a 17 year sentence after taking a pleading to second-degree murder, not admitting guilt, but agreeing the evidence available would be enough to convict him. Trimble maintained throughout the trial he did not remember any of the events of that night. His lawyer would also argue Trimble was most likely extremely intoxicated at the time and had no recollection because of his excessive drinking. Regardless, Trimble will have to spend his days in prison knowing he could have gotten away with murder if he didn't continue his criminal ways.
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Grand Junction, Colorado, December 27th, 1975. In the early evening hours, an argument is heard between a male and a female inside 19 year old college student Deborah Tomlinson's apartment. A concerned neighbor places several calls to Tomlinson's apartment to check on her, but the calls were not answered. The neighbor eventually called the apartment manager who entered the apartment and found Tomlinson dead in the bathtub. She had been bound, sexually assaulted, and strangled. Police responded to the scene, interviewed neighbors, collected evidence, and identified suspects. Unfortunately there was not enough evidence to charge any of the suspects and the case remained cold over forty years.
In 2019 Grand Junction Police Department Detectives reopened the case after having solved another 1975 cold case in 2009 thanks to a DNA match in CODIS. Hoping to keep the streak going, Detectives submitted evidence from the Tomlinson murder to Parabon Nanolabs . Parabon Nanolabs is a Virginia based private laboratory which uses Genetic Geneaology to identify suspects using their relatives DNA. Parabon was able to create a list of suspects for Detectives to follow up with.
On December 2nd, 2020, Grand Junction Police announced a relative of a suspect agreed to submit a DNA sample for comparison, and with that information Police were able use CODIS to identify Jimmy Dean Duncan as the culprit. Duncan was 26 at the time of the murder, and lived a free man until 1987. Duncan passed away from unknown causes that year. It appears the attack was random as there was no other connection between Tomlinson and Duncan, and he was in town visiting a relative at the time of the killing. Though Duncan will not be punished for his crime, the Tomlinson family finally has the closure they sought for over four decades.