Fresh off arrest, police probing more cold cases
More than 30 years after a Grand Junction mother and daughter were stabbed to death inside their apartment, police took advantage of advances in DNA technology to arrest a serial rapist they think is responsible for the brutal murders.
That appears to be just the beginning of a concerted effort to solve homicides that have languished for years on dusty shelves or in unopened boxes.
A small team of current and retired investigators is digging into two other unsolved murders in addition to the deaths of 24-year-old Linda Benson and her 5-year-old daughter, Kelley. Those three are among a total of 17 outstanding homicides police have identified dating back to 1964.
“All of these victims in these cases deserve to have their cases resolved,” Grand Junction police Cmdr. Mike Nordine said Wednesday.
One of the cases police have reopened is the murder of 19-year-old Deborah Tomlinson, who was found raped, strangled and bound in her apartment at 1029 Belford Ave. on Dec. 27, 1975. Police have re-examined evidence in that case and passed it along to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for testing.
Nordine declined to talk further about the Tomlinson investigation or identify the third case police are working, citing active investigations and the desire not to potentially raise false hopes for the victims’ relatives.
Tomlinson, a freshman at what was then Mesa College, was killed five months after 24-year-old Linda Benson and her 5-year-old daughter, Kelley, were stabbed to death in their apartment at 1300 N. 21st Street. Tomlinson and the Bensons lived 12 blocks apart.
Police spokeswoman Kate Porras said detectives are not currently looking into whether 64-year-old Jerry Nemnich, the man arrested this month in connection with the Benson slayings, may have been involved in other unsolved homicides. But she didn’t rule out the possibility in the future, either.
“Right now we know we’ve linked Nemnich to the Benson case,” she said. “We haven’t had an opportunity to look at the other ones, so at this point, no. As far as a real investigation of any of those cases, it’s just been the Benson case.”
Grand Junction police began digging through old homicides two years ago after a new state law required CBI to review cold cases. The agency sent out surveys to law-enforcement agencies asking them to sift through their cases.
Cmdr. Greg Assenmacher spearheaded the project and identified three cases that, given time, he thought stood the best chance of being solved based on the quality of evidence and police work done previously.
He brought in retired Lt. Larry Bullard, who formerly worked for both the Grand Junction police and Mesa County sheriff’s departments, and retired FBI agent Phil Walter to look over old police reports and interview witnesses. The Police Department paid for Bullard to maintain his certification as a police officer.
After an application for a $150,000 federal grant was rejected, police were allocated an extra $15,000 in their budget this year to help pay for the cold-case work. They plan to apply for another federal grant.
While they are pursuing two other old homicide cases, police say the Benson case remains their top priority.
Nordine said he, a sergeant and a detective from the Police Department, as well as investigators on loan from CBI and the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office, are all working the case full-time.