Guest Columnist

35 years later, Novak homicide remains unsolved

Photo of Marlene (Florang) Chramosta
Photo of Marlene (Florang) Chramosta
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Today marks the 35th anniversary of Ron Novak’s Dec. 23, 1983, death at his rural Center Point home.

About 18 months ago, a support group was launched on Facebook by friends and family members frustrated because Ron’s case seems no closer to being solved.

The Cedar Rapids Police Department was actively trying to solve Michelle Martinko’s 1979 murder using the newest DNA technology. The Linn County Sheriff’s Office has not followed suit.

The police department’s use of Snapshot DNA phenotyping services from Parabon Labs was a huge factor in the recent arrest of Michelle’s suspected killer. The computer-generated composites provided a general description of their suspect, including hair color, eye color and ethnicity. This technology is amazing, as far as I’m concerned.

Kudos to the CRPD for stepping up and getting it done for Michelle’s family and friends.

Presently, our biggest frustrations are the lack of progress on Ron’s case, and that the sheriff’s office has not used the newest technology. We — Ron’s sisters, Patti and Mary, and myself — made a formal request for Snapshot DNA. The reply didn’t give us a reason why it wouldn’t be done, just said they were looking into this and other investigative possibilities. But over the last 18 months we’ve been given several different reasons.

One reason was the cost, which is between $5,000 and $6,000. When I asked if there was enough DNA to do the test, I was told they couldn’t divulge the information. We were hoping they’d do the test if we could raise the money to cover the cost.

On another occasion we were told DNA Snapshot composites weren’t good matches to actual perpetrators’ photos. I’ve seen many composites that are dead ringers for perpetrators. The age-progressed composite in the Martinko case is a very good likeness, although a recent photograph shows the suspect is heavier than projected.

Another reason given was that they didn’t want to lose the chain of custody of the DNA because they’d need it in court someday to prove their case. Parabon Labs’ website says a minimum of a nanogram of DNA is needed from the sample to do the test. (A nanogram is one billionth of a gram.)

There also is a wonderful new twist to Snapshot DNA technology in which DNA investigators can upload a suspect’s raw DNA to a public genetic database called gedmatch.com. The company builds family trees from matches with distant relatives and narrows results to people who fit the suspect’s age and physical traits as gleaned from his or her DNA profile. It’s a perfect follow-up for identifying a known or previously unknown suspect.

First, though, the sheriff’s office would need to get the Snapshot DNA done. We’ve certainly tried everything we could think of to get some action and answers.

We also are aware supposed suspects in Ron’s case are numerous. After 35 years, the perpetrator(s) could very well be deceased. But even if that’s the case, Ron’s family and friends want closure. And we don’t want to wait another 35 years to get it.

One thing we can do right now is appeal, once again, to the public to contact Linn County Crime Stoppers or call 1-800-272-7463 with tips, if you haven’t already done so. There is a $2,500 reward offered.

And we can pray that seeing Martinko’s suspected killer arrested through the use of Snapshot DNA technology will encourage the sheriff’s department to act sooner rather than later.

Blessed holidays to all.

• Marlene (Florang) Chramosta is retired and lives in northwest Cedar Rapids. She grew up in the same southwest neighborhood as the Novak family, near Jones Park.

Editor’s note: We reached out to the Linn County Sheriff’s Office to discuss the validity of claims made in this guest column and received the following statement: “We remain committed to solving this case. Our investigators are exploring all possible investigative opportunities. Recently we asked for DNA from family members of supposed suspects, interviewed and re-interviewed witnesses, and followed up on new investigative leads. We have also researched new DNA technologies and other cold case investigative methods that have recently come to light to see what might make sense. We also assume that other investigative techniques will be created in the near future to assist us in this process. While this murder may have occurred in 1983, it still remains an active case.”

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