Five cold cases revived
Homicides in Grand Junction given fresh attention
Five cold-case homicides in Grand Junction, spanning 23 years and including the unsolved 1964 murder of Patty Haywood, have fresh attention at the Grand Junction Police Department in hopes that advancements in DNA testing will bring justice.
Police Sgt. William Baker, supervisor in charge of investigations, said detectives are several months into new work on the five unsolved cold cases. Aside from Haywood’s murder, the department has reopened the 1975 murder of Deborah Tomlinson, the 1979 murder of Clyde Peterman and the killings of Gerald Burns and David Lavender in 1986 and 1987, respectively.
The effort was made possible by a grant from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which is paying 30 hours of overtime per case for detectives and up to $3,000 for travel-related expenses for collection of DNA from possible suspects or victims’ families. Eight detectives are currently assigned to the five old murders.
“It was bothering me we couldn’t put more effort into these cases,” Baker said of the CBI grant, which he prepared and submitted late last year.
While police acknowledge nine cold-case murders in Grand Junction, Baker said he decided to prioritize just five based on age. Haywood’s murder happened 50 years ago this coming July 1.
“Witnesses and suspects are dying every day,” Baker said.
The odds of finding five-decade-old material suitable for a possible DNA test?
“I don’t know,” Baker said. “We’ll try to roll the dice on those odds.”
So far, Baker said they’ve identified evidence in two of the cases, Peterman’s and Lavender’s, that will be sent to CBI’s Grand Junction laboratory for DNA testing, potentially including sophisticated so-called “Touch DNA” that looks at tiny numbers of left-behind skin cells.
“Things that seven to 10 years ago we wouldn’t have considered to be evidence can now be good for DNA,” Baker said.
Baker said they’re approaching each case the same.
“What else can we do and what else needs to be done?” he said. “The toughest challenge is just trying to put everything in order (case files) ... the evidence, reports, scene documentation and autopsy reports. Back when these cases were going, I think law enforcement had no idea what would be needed or useful in the world of DNA.”
There’s a template for cold-case success at the department. Jerry Nemnich, 69, is serving two life terms for the 1975 murders of 24-year-old Linda Benson and her daughter, Kelley Ketchum, 5, which happened after a team of investigators re-opened the case in 2008 and submitted unknown DNA samples for testing to CBI. In 2009, Nemnich’s DNA was flagged in an offender database as being at the Benson crime scene. Testimony at trial showed his DNA profile was in at least eight places inside Benson’s apartment and under her fingernails.
The Daily Sentinel in 2011 published a series profiling all of the five Grand Junction cold-case murders now under review:
■ Haywood, 18, was found shot in the head on the morning of July 1, 1964, in the alleyway behind 1350 N. 17th St. Her undergarments and shorts were torn down to her ankles and a yellow blouse was pushed up around her neck.
■ Tomlinson, 19, was found partially clothed in the bathtub of her apartment, 1029 Belford Ave., beaten, strangled and sexually assaulted on the night of Dec. 27, 1975. It was the sixth Mesa County murder of 1975, later pegged as “The Killing Season.”
■ Peterman, 45, was beaten to death in the bathtub of his apartment, 246 Belford Ave., on March 19, 1979. Police told the Sentinel in 2011 that Peterman was openly gay and several people interviewed in the investigation “had issues” with his homosexuality.
■ Burns, 44, was found Oct. 11, 1986, beaten and strangled near railroad tracks along the Interstate 70 Business Loop, behind a group of buildings at 180 E. Main St. Burns was known to hang out at abandoned houses along D Road, aside from Emerson and Whitman parks.
■ Lavender, 45, was found beaten to death Aug. 26, 1987, under the Broadway bridge and near the Colorado River. He’d been last seen walking in the area of the bridge and his body was exposed outdoors for a significant period of time prior to discovery.