• Rod Kackley

DNA Technology Solves Decades-Old Murder Case, A Shocking True Crime Story

Early on December 20, 1979, Cedar Rapids, Iowa police discovered Michelle Martinko's bloody body in her parents' Buick.

Michelle, a blonde 18-year-old, drove to Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids to do some Christmas shopping. She picked up a winter coat from one of the stores, talked to some friends, and walked back to her parents' car in the mall's parking lot.

Michelle wasn't seen again until four a.m. the next day, two hours after her mother and father reported her missing. Her body, stuffed into the passenger seat footwell, was covered with blood. She'd been stabbed more than ten times in the face and chest.

Her hands were cut up too, showing police that Michelle tried to defend herself.

Hundreds of people were interviewed by the police. Sixty suspects were interviewed. Ten-thousand-dollars was offered as a reward. Police had a sketch of a white man in his late teens or early twenties. But nothing helped police find the murderer.

Tragically, Michelle's parents died in the 1990s. They would never know that police eventually captured a man they believe took Michelle's life.

Twenty-first century DNA technology made the difference. Investigators lifted a man's partial DNA profile from a bloodstain on the car's gear shift and another bloodstain on Michelle's dress.

Using the resources of GEDmatch, a commercial genetic genealogy site, investigators were able to narrow their suspect list to three brothers, all in Iowa. Two were eliminated. That left Jerry Lynn Burns.

Police started tracking his every movement. An officer grabbed a straw that Jerry had used to drink a soft drink. It was sent to the state crime lab, and the DNA on the straw turned out to be a positive match.

Jerry Lynn Burns, 66, was arrested at his office, December 19, 2018, and charged with first-degree murder. The day he was put in handcuffs was also the 39th anniversary of Michelle's death.

Jerry went to trial in August 2020, was convicted, and sent to prison for the rest of his life.

Michelle's older sister Janelle said she only wished her parents had lived long enough to see Jerry marched out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

"We don't exactly know the whys and some of the details," Janelle said, "but we definitely know who did it, and that was terribly important to us."

Private eye Ron Delaney goes on a wild ride from the horse stables of Kentucky to the car plants of Detroit to find a killer. Along the way, his prized Corvette is smashed by a speeding blonde, he falls in love with a woman half his age and battles a Russian mob family.

Bullets fly and miss Ron and the woman he loves by inches. He knows this could all end very badly.

But Ron has a $20,000 check in his pocket from the mistress of a dead Kentucky politician. Ron's agreed to find her lover's murderer and turning back is never an option for this Vietnam War veteran.

Besides, when you take a shot at Ron and the woman he loves, it's not just business. It's very personal.

Empty Minute: A Murder Mystery

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