Read the 1979 Michelle Martinko coverage from The Gazette's archive

An arrest has been made in the 39-year-old Cedar Rapids cold case

Segment of The Gazette's Thursday December 20, 1979 paper.
Segment of The Gazette's Thursday December 20, 1979 paper.

After 39 years, an arrest has been made in the slaying of 18-year-old Michelle Martinko.

Martinko was found stabbed to death in a mall parking lot. Cedar Rapids officers announced during a Wednesday night news conference that Jerry Lynn Burns, now 64, of Manchester has been arrested.

The Gazette covered this story extensively when it happened in 1979. Read archive articles from the coverage as it happened below. Read the latest coverage here.

C.R. Student, 18, slain

By Kurt Rogahn of The Gazette | December 20, 1979

Michelle Martinko, an 18-year-old Kennedy High School senior, was stabbed to death sometime during the night.

Police found Martinko's body in the family's tan 1972 Buick 4-door at 4 a.m. today. The car was parked in the northeast section of the parking lot of Westdale Mall shopping center on the city's southwest side.

The girl's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Albert Martinko, 4312 Woodfield Lane NE, had reported Michelle missing at 2 a.m. today, police said.

Michelle hadn't returned home police were told. Her parents called later and said they had learned she had gone to Westdale to do some shopping, police said. Officers then concentrated their search in the Westdale area and discovered the body, according to Police Chief Raymond K. Baker.

Numerous stab wounds were discovered on the body, according to an assistant county medical examiner.

The body was discovered fully clothed, and preliminary investigation by the medical examiner's office indicates the victim was not sexually molested. The time of death has not been determined and an autopsy was scheduled today.

Michelle Martinko's steps have been partially traced up to around 8 p.m. Wednesday. Kennedy High's principal, Michael Clover, said Michelle would have been at the annual Kennedy Concert Choir banquet at the Sheraton Inn until around 7 p.m. Clover said Martinko was seen at the shopping mall about a half-hour later.

Michelle was scheduled to have graduated from Kennedy High School this spring. She had participated in the school's women's choir and in the Concert Choir, as well as in dramatic productions.

"She was an above-average student," Clover said. "She was quiet, but attractive." 

Police had few leads in the case this morning and are making an appeal for help from the public.

"We know that she was all right up to about 8 p.m., but we don't know what happened after that. So we are asking that if anyone saw her after that, if anyone saw someone with her, call us," said James Barnes, assistant chief of police. "If there's any information at all, call us."

"It's like that incident this fall which we discovered that bartender murdered," Chief Baker said. "We're starting at ground zero."

For detectives, starting at "ground zero" meant interviewing the girl's friends and a number of young people, some accompanied by their parents, were seen entering the detective bureau this morning.


New theory, plea in Martinko case

By Kurt Rogahn and Nancy Stevens of The Gazette | January 25, 1980

Cedar Rapids police are exploring another theory in the Michelle Martinko murder case and wants any help the public can give them, Assistant Police Chief James Barnes said this morning.

Martinko was found stabbed to death in her family's car early Dec. 20 at Westdale Mall parking lot behind the J.C. Penney store.

Police have now identified a second area in the Westdale Mall parking lot in front of the Penney store where the Martinko car may have been seen earlier on the evening of Dec. 19, Barnes said. He emphasized this is only one of the theories police are now exploring.

The Martinko 1972 Buick Electra was found in the parking lot behind the Penney store. The car is a four-door model with gold vinyl top and light green bottom. The license number is Linn County DND 874.

Barnes refused to give any details as to why the police want information about the parking area.

"We are requesting any person parked in either area between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 19, 1979, and who may have observed activity in these areas that may be pertinent to the Michelle Martinko murder case to please contact the detective bureau of the Cedar Rapids Police Department," stated a police press release this morning.

What She Wore

The evening of her death, Martinko was wearing a black, V-neck, jersey material dress with matching black scarf tied around her neck. She had on dark hose and black, high-heeled open-toed shoes,  with straps across the arch and ankle.

Police said she was wearing a waist-length white and brown colored hooded jacket made of rabbit fur, and was carrying a brown leather shoulder purse.

She was also wearing earrings and three or four rings.

Her blond hair that evening was hanging free to the shoulder.

Police said anyone with information should call 398-5046 or 398-5151 during the day and 398-5353 after midnight.

The Martinko death has kept police in a quandary for over a month with detectives working day after day as the girl's friends and parents continue to agonize over the death, asking why anyone would want to kill the 18-year-old Kennedy senior.

Though there are as many rumors about the appearance of the murder scene as there are theories on who committed the murder and why, police are noticeably reticent about discussing details of the case.

Events That Night

What is known is that Michelle Martinko attended Kennedy High School Dec. 19 and was at the school-related banquet in the evening. She then left the Sheraton Inn, site of the banquet, and went to Westdale Mall to shop for a coat. It appears Michelle went from store to store, speaking to friends and acquaintances who worked at Westdale.

Her father, Albert, reported his daughter missing at around 2 a.m. and began to search for her himself Police officers discovered the body at 4 a.m.

As far as police know, Michelle was not harassed by anyone in the days leading up to her death nor followed by anyone once inside the shopping center.

From the medical examiner's office police learned that the girl was not sexually molested. And while police declined to name a specific amount, enough cash was found in Michelle's purse to rule out robbery as a murder motive. 

From an autopsy police learned that Michelle was stabbed with a sharp object. But the autopsy failed to show if the object was a knife or how long its blade was.

Enough hints have been dropped by persons familiar with the case to show that police have examined several "leads" in the case. But no one as yet has been marked as a suspect.

No one's life has been more altered by the stabbing than Janet Martinko, Michelle's mother.

Declining to be interviewed in person, Mrs. Martinko did talk briefly about her daughter on the phone. She spoke of her daughter's beauty, gentle ways, and her singing.

Beautiful Voice

"She loved music," Janet Martinko said. "She was a beautiful singer, and I miss all this. I miss all her singing and her beautiful music."

Michelle was the younger of two daughters. "Our lives revolved around Michelle," Mrs. Martinko said.

"She never had any school problems. She had goals for herself, things she wanted to do with her life, and she would write them down and achieve them."

"I don't know if I'll ever get over this" Mrs. Martinko said. "I am a brokenhearted mother." People have tried to console her, she said. She said people she has never met sent cards and letters of condolence during the holiday season.

She said she had saved her daughter's books and personal effects and might be willing to talk about Michelle in a year. "I don't think it will ever be solved," she said.

The murder and investigation has not only touched the lives of the police and close associates of Michelle, but also the lives of people who never knew the girl.

Some men and women around Cedar Rapids began altering their shopping habits - women venturing out at night less frequently alone - and the conversation at any gathering of people, for a few weeks at least, veered from the world crisis to the murder of the 18-year-old Kennedy High School senior.



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