Public Safety

Manchester community shocked at Burns arrest in Martinko murder case

Russ Wright, who works at Quik 'N Handi, answers a question as he sits at a table at Blue Collar Sports Bar in Manchester on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Russ Wright, who works at Quik 'N Handi, answers a question as he sits at a table at Blue Collar Sports Bar in Manchester on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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MANCHESTER — Wednesday started out just like any other day in Manchester but little known to the locals, news would surface that evening that would leave the community shrouded in questions.

Cedar Rapids Police announced the arrest of Manchester resident Jerry Lynn Burns, 64, Wednesday night in connection with the 39-year-old murder of Kennedy High School senior Michelle Martinko.

Martinko, who was 18, was found stabbed to death in her family’s Buick in the early morning hours of Dec. 20, 1979, in the parking lot of Westdale Mall. The case remained unsolved until Wednesday night when police announced they used DNA evidence to link Burns to the crime.

 

Burns faces a charge of first-degree murder. His arrest left those in Manchester, who have lived and worked alongside him for decades, asking how the person they know could be connected to such a crime.

“I’d say the reaction today has been utter disbelief,” said Jackie Mormann, owner of The Bread Basket, a local eatery on Main Street in downtown Manchester.

“It’s kind of rocked our world,” she said. “I was happy when I heard the case was solved, but it was a punch in the gut to hear it was someone from the community. It makes you question how someone could live here in this community for all these years and possibly have done something like this.”

Mormann said she was “born and raised” in Manchester. She opened her restaurant about five years ago, she said, and it has since become a local lunch spot where everyone knows everyone.

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“All of my customers today have been talking about (Burns’ arrest) and how shocking it was,” Mormann told The Gazette Thursday. “We’ve also had a lot of customers come in from out of town and a lot of them asked about it.”

Russ Wright, head cashier at Quik ‘N Handi, a convenience store and gas station on Highway 13 near the southwest edge of town, said Burns was a regular customer.

This is something that affects the whole community, and everybody wants answers.

- Russ Wright

Cashier at Quik ‘N Handi

 

“He came in two or three times a week, always around 7:30 in the morning,” Wright said. “And he always bought two cans of Coca-Cola and some lottery tickets. And sometimes he comes back for our lunch specials.”

The store used to operate under the name of E-Z Pickin’s, which Burns owned up until the business was bought by McDermott Oil.

When the father of three did stop in, Wright said they would make small talk, chatting about work and plans for the day.

Burns co-owns Advanced Coating Concepts with his son, a powder coating business and turf equipment dealer just south of Manchester.

“He was in here (Wednesday) morning,” Wright said. “We talked about how he had just dropped his cat off at the vet and about his work, and he said he had a busy day ahead. When he left I told him ‘Have a good day Jerry, I’ll see you tomorrow.’”

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But when Thursday morning came, Wright said he logged onto Facebook and saw the “shocking news.”

“Never in a million years would I suspect he’d be involved in something like this,” he said.

Wright said he never saw any signs that Burns was under investigation. Police never came into the shop, he said, and no law enforcement officers ever contacted him or asked him about Burns.

“This is something that affects the whole community,” he said, “and everybody wants answers.”

For those who knew Burns well, the idea that their friend could have killed an 18-year-old woman 39 years ago is a hard pill to swallow.

A retired teacher, John Curran, of Manchester, said he knows Burns from Bob Stephen Motors, a Manchester car dealership where the men occasionally would see each other and talk.

“It seems awful shocking to me, the way I’ve known him,” he said of Burns’ arrest.

Curran said he doesn’t know how police homed in on Burns, but he’s not passing judgment until he hears the facts.

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“You have to go with the evidence,” he said. “Nobody is guilty until they prove it.”

 

Likewise, Mike McElliot, of Ryan, who has known Burns since they were freshmen at West Delaware High School, said he finds the news impossible to believe.

“We were in the same class, so I’ve known him almost 50 years,” McElliot said Thursday. They graduated in 1972.

In high school, Burns ran track and was involved in FFA, McElliot said. Later, Burns sold farm implements in Dyersville at the same time McElliot was a postal carrier there. Burns now owns Advanced Coating Concepts in Manchester, he said.

“He’s a quiet, respected guy,” he said.

McElliot said he felt bad for Burns as he listened to news accounts of Burns’ arrest Wednesday.

“When you listen to (Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne) Jerman on the news last night, they’ve got him (Burns) hung already,” McElliot said. “You’ll never convince me he did something like that.”

Chief Jerman said Wednesday night that Martinko’s family now could take comfort in knowing a murder arrest had been made, and for Martinko’s sister Janelle Stonebraker and her husband John Stonebraker, an arrest in the case was something to be grateful for.

“Janelle and I are very pleased and grateful for the work of several generations of Cedar Rapids uniformed police and detectives in bringing Mr. Burns to justice,” John Stonebraker said in a statement to The Gazette. “From the leadership on down, they never gave up.

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“The community can be very proud of its law enforcement, and for the tremendous comfort and support area residents have extended to our family over the thirty-nine years since Michelle’s death. Our heartfelt thanks to everyone.

“Mr. Burns is presumed innocent, and we look forward to the evidence showing otherwise.”

l Comments: 319-398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

Staff writer Erin Jordan contributed to this story.

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