DNA from brutal 1979 murder helps solve Oregon cold case
This story is based on an account of the investigation provided by the Marion County District Attorney's Office
SALEM, Ore. - Janie Landers lived at the Fairview Training Center, the now defunct state-run home for people with mental disabilities.
The 18-year-old functioned at an 8-year-old level.
And in March 1979, she disappeared.
Investigators initially believed Janie took off on her own.
Five days after she disappeared, her body was found dumped in the Silver Falls area. She had been brutally beaten and repeatedly stabbed.
An autopsy determined Janie likely died the day she disappeared.
The Oregon State Police investigated, working every lead they could find.
The case went cold.
Every so often over the years, investigators revisited the case. Detectives poured over the evidence, talked to again to possible witnesses, and reviewed the work of their predecessors.
Fairview closed in 2000, one more connection to the case gone.
Then in March 2015, Janie's sister Joyce asked police to try again.
Evidence tested for DNA
Joyce was 13 when her sister disappeared. She hoped her sister's murder could be solved while their father, now 82, was still alive.
Detective Steve Hinkle of the Oregon State Police revisited the evidence - and started working a new lead.
"The brutal attack on Janie made it likely that her killer had been injured in the process. Janie clearly fought for her life," the Marion County District Attorney's Office said in a report on the case. "Further, the wounds she suffered were likely caused by a knife without a hilt, making it a strong possibility that her perpetrator would have been cut as his hand tried to repeatedly manipulate the weapon."
Forensic scientists sampled blood stains on Janie's clothing - and found a man's DNA.
The DNA matched that of Gerald Kenneth Dunlap, a twice convicted sex offender who died in an Oregon prison in 2002 - and had worked at Fairview in 1979.
A background check at the time of his hire wouldn't likely have turned up Dunlap's violent sexual history. And Oregon law at the time didn't require sex offenders to register with local law enforcement.
But Dunlap had a record.
He was convicted of raping a woman during an armed robbery in Knoxville, Tenn., in 1961.
Sentenced to life in prison, he was paroled in 1973.
Dunlap initially moved to California and registered as a sex offender.
Then he moved to Salem in 1974, got married and took a job at Fairview.
Cold case closed
With this information in hand, state police obtained photos of Dunlap from his time in prison in Tennessee.
He looked strikingly like composite drawings of a man seen talking to Janie the day she disappeared. Two of the witnesses who help make that drawing in 1979 looked at a photo line up. Both picked the photo of Dunlap as the man they remembered seeing that day.
Dunlap himself was long dead: Convicted of a sex crime in 1996, he died in prison in 2002.
But that conviction had put his DNA into the database that provided the match to DNA from blood found on Janie's clothes.
Marion County Deputy District Attorney Paige Clarkson reviewed the case and determined Dunlap was solely responsible for Janie's murder.
"This case would never have been solved were it not for the dedicated work of the Oregon State Police Detectives, the persistence of a little sister who never forgot for nearly four decades, and the courage of a prior victim to report her abuser and withstand the rigors of a trial," Clarkson said. "It is because of her that Dunlap could never hurt anyone again and, most importantly for this case, his DNA was on file."
Prosecutors believe Janie's small stature and immature appearance would have made her a perfect target for a sexual predator like Dunlap.
But Janie's autopsy found no evidence she had been sexually assaulted.
The 5-foot-1, 105 pound teen known for her feisty strength had put up a fight.
"He likely offered her a ride and, given Janie's intellectual disabilities, she was easily convinced," according to the district attorney's report. "Once in the vehicle, Dunlap likely threatened Janie with a knife and attempted a violent sexual attack. Janie's unexpected level of strength and resistance however, would have both surprised and frustrated Dunlap who resorted to killing her when his sexual attack was thwarted. Janie was ultimately outsized and overpowered by the murderous rage of Dunlap."
Dunlap's death means he can't stand trial for Janie's murder.
The once cold case is now closed.
On Monday, Hinkle returned Janie's belongings - an earring and two small hair ties - to her family.
"It's not much," he said. "But it represents the end to this case. We're grateful we could solve this. We're grateful we could do this for Janie. We're hopeful her family can find some closure to this horrific chapter of their lives."
"I'm really grateful and relieved that it's done," added Joyce, Janie's sister. "She can be totally at peace now because her case is solved."