Michelle Martinko

The date was December 19, 1979. It’s a Wednesday. Eighteen year old Michelle Martinko went to the Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, after her choir banquet. She told her mother, Janet Martinko, that she was going to pick up a coat that Janet had put on hold for her for Christmas. Michelle intended to pay it off and then go home after the mall, but she never arrived. Her father, Albert Martinko, reported her missing at 2 a.m. and went out with police to look for her.

Michelle’s body was discovered in the early hours of the next morning, at 4 a.m. on December 20th, in the front seat of her parents’ Buick, which was parked near J.C. Penney at the mall.
Michelle was stabbed and slashed 29 times. The majority of her injuries were to her face and chest.
Michelle’s mother, Janet, called Michelle’s sister, Janelle, and her husband, John Stonebraker, to say she had found the “bloody, torn, broken body of her beautiful daughter.” According to John, she “wasn’t crying so much as gasping and choking.” She couldn’t say anything.”

Michelle Martinko
Janet and her daughter Michelle Martinko

Michelle went into the mall that night, December 19th, saw a few people she knew who were also shopping there, had food with a friend in the food court, and then went to the store to pick up the coat. Michelle had $186 in cash with her for the coat, but when she saw it, she realized she didn’t want it and didn’t buy it. Michelle also went shopping at the mall. Michelle would have had to walk alone in the dark for a few minutes because her car was not parked near the mall’s entrance.

She had mentioned earlier that evening that she was nervous because she felt someone was watching her. She was last seen leaving the mall around 9 p.m. According to police, she got into her car, and then someone got into the car next to her and stabbed and cut her to death. The money Michelle had with her for the coat, as well as the items she purchased at the store, ruled out a robbery.

Michelle was stabbed to death, according to the autopsy. According to a pathologist, the fatal stab wound was to her heart, and she bled to death as a result. It was also determined that she had not been sexually assaulted, but police suspected that the motive was still sexual, and Michelle had fought so hard that the perpetrator may not have been able to carry out their original plan. Michelle’s hands and body were covered in defensive slice wounds. Police had to determine whether the murderer was known to Michelle or a complete stranger.

Police suspected the killer was wearing gloves because they discovered rubber glove impressions on the outside of the car in dirt and inside the car in blood. There were no fingerprints discovered. Despite the fact that blood was scraped from the inside of the car on the gearshift and a spot of blood was found on Michelle’s black dress, DNA was not as advanced in 1979 as it is now.

Despite the fact that Michelle was seen by several people inside the mall and parked there, no witnesses came forward to say they saw her inside her car or saw someone approach her. Andy Seidel, Michelle’s ex-boyfriend, was one of the first people questioned by police. Michelle met Andy at a roller skating rink when she was fifteen years old. He was only a year her senior, and they dated for two years. Michelle ended the relationship, and her friends suspected Andy didn’t take it well, and they told police that he was interested in her every move and who she was dating.

Andy met Michelle at the mall on December 19th, according to police. When police questioned him about it, he said he went home afterwards, and his mother confirmed that he was home that night and returned shortly after the mall closed. Andy told police that he was on good terms with Michelle and that their relationship had ended because they had grown apart.

Despite the suspicions and rumours, police had no evidence against Andy and he was not arrested or charged. After high school, he left Cedar Rapids to join the Navy. Even after he left, many people suspected him of murdering Michelle and wondered if there would ever be enough evidence to charge and convict him. The case was closed


Andy Seidel and Michelle Martinko
Andy Seidel and Michelle Martinko

A new team looked into the case in 2005. Detective Doug Larison reviewed the file and noticed that another detective had sent the blood scrapings found on the car’s gearshift out for testing, but no results were recorded on the file. Detective Larison obtained the findings and discovered that the gearshift contained male DNA. The blood stain on Michelle’s dress had a full male DNA profile that matched the male DNA profile on the gearshift.
The blood samples were sent to CODIS, a national database of DNA from people convicted of crimes. There were no matches found.

Despite this, the investigation continued, and people in Cedar Rapids were interviewed again, as well as DNA samples were collected. Andy was asked to provide a DNA sample by police. He did so voluntarily, and he was eliminated as a result. It wasn’t meant to be. Andy was finally exonerated after nearly thirty years.

In 2015, Matt Denlinger took over as lead detective and asked Virginia’s Parabon NanoLabs for assistance. Based on the DNA sample provided by the police, they drew a picture of the potential suspect. The suspect was determined to be a white male with blonde hair and blue eyes. They made several sketches, each with a slightly different appearance, of how he might have appeared at the time of Michelle’s murder.

Parabon NanoLabs
Parabon NanoLabs

Police received a number of tips from members of the public based on those sketches, but it wasn’t until they followed the case of the “Golden State Killer” that they got a real break in the case. Joseph DeAngelo was charged with murder and rape in cold cases based on the use of genetic genealogy in that case.

The tracking of DNA from one family member to the next is known as genetic genealogy. It constructs a DNA family tree.

In Michelle’s case, Parabon assisted the investigation once more and searched a public national database called GEDmatch to see what they could find. GEDmatch is a database that allows people to voluntarily submit their own DNA to trace their family trees.

This search resulted in the discovery of the killer’s relative. Brandy Jennings was the relative, and she lived in Vancouver, Washington. They discovered she was a distant relative, a second cousin twice removed, to the man whose DNA was discovered on the dress and gearshift. Genealogical records, birth records, gravestone records, and internet searches assisted police in building her family tree, and the search was narrowed down to three brothers who lived in Iowa with the help of Parabon. Kenneth Burns, Donald Burns, and Jerry Burns were their names.

Police obtained their DNA in October 2018 without informing them that they were investigating Michelle’s murder.
They got their DNA without knowing it. They followed them and found a straw used by one brother, two straws used by another brother, and a toothbrush used by a third brother in the trash. They had them tested to see if any of them matched the DNA profile they had on file. One was returned as a match. Jerry Burns was a dead ringer. He was twenty-five years old when Michelle was murdered.

Jerry Burns
Jerry Burns

Police visited Jerry’s office and spoke with him. He said he had nothing to do with Michelle’s death. When asked if he had ever been to the mall, he confirmed that he had, but couldn’t remember when. On the 39th anniversary of Michelle’s murder, he was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
Jerry was unknown to the cops; he had no criminal record, a successful business, a wife, and three children.

Jerry’s trial was held in February 2020. He entered a not guilty plea.

The Prosecution’s case revolved almost entirely around the DNA found on the gearshift and on Michelle’s dres.

The Defense argued that Jerry was innocent, and they told the jury that DNA evidence isn’t perfect. His attorney, Leon Spies, told the Court that there are numerous myths about DNA. Dr. Michael Spence, a molecular biologist, was called to testify on behalf of the defense. Dr. Spence testified that the DNA found in the car belonged to Jerry, which was undeniably true. The question was how it got there.

Dr. Spence testified that it could have been there because of DNA transfer.
Leon reminded the Jury that Jerry admitted he was at the same mall as Michelle and that she sat down with a friend at a food court, which Jerry may have used.

His attorney did not present an alibi as to where Jerry was on the night Michelle was murdered, but he did suggest that he was at the mall with his family the night before Michelle was murdered and may have left behind DNA that was later transferred to Michelle.

The Prosecutor disagreed, telling the Jury that there was only one way Jerry Burns’ DNA could have gotten into that car and on the dress. Jerry then got into the car with Michelle, attacked her, and cut himself in the struggle, leaving a trail of blood behind him. He told the jury that Michelle had interacted with at least a half-dozen friends on the night of her death, including at the mall, but no DNA from any of them was found inside the car or on her dress.

After three hours of deliberation, the jury found Jerry, who was sixty-six years old at the time of his trial, guilty of first-degree murder.

Jerry Burns

Before being sentenced, Jerry made a brief statement to the Court in which he maintained his innocence and stated that someone else stabbed Michelle and he had no idea who or why.

His attorney filed a motion for a new trial, claiming that a private investigator had discovered new evidence that had not been available during the trial. That new evidence concerned a music teacher, Kathryn Birky, who taught private piano and organ lessons and stated that she had a scheduled lesson with Michelle in the Westdale Mall between 8.30pm and 9pm on the night of the attack. The Defense Attorney contended that this was a regularly scheduled lesson that Michelle attended on the same night each week. That meant that her attacker could have been someone who was familiar with her routine, and if Jurors had known about it, they could have reached a different conclusion.

The Prosecution argued that that evidence would not have changed the verdic.

Judge Hoover denied Jerry’s request for a new trial, and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

It was discovered that some evidence was not heard during Jerry’s trial. A Judge ruled, according to Court documents, that details of an internet search history could not be used during the trial. On a computer that Jerry had access to, searches for internet porn depicting blonde women sexually assaulted and killed were allegedly conducted.

Michelle, her family, who adored her, and Andy were among the many victims in this case. Michelle’s parents died before DNA evidence linked Jerry to her death. They died believing Andy was to blame. For many years, Andy was shrouded in suspicion.

There has been speculation about whether Jerry was involved in any other murders or missing person cases. At the time of his arrest, Jerry was married to his second wife. Patricia, his first wife, committed suicide in 2008. Brian Burns, his cousin, went missing on December 19, 2013. Police have stated that they have no reason to believe Jerry was involved in either case.

Police have not said whether they are looking into Jerry in connection with the unsolved case of Jodi Huisentruit. When police questioned Jerry about Michelle’s case, he brought up Jodi. Jodi was a news anchor who was kidnapped near her car in a parking lot outside her apartment building on her way to work in 1995. She was employed in Mason City, Iowa. Jerry was two hours away.

Jerry has filed an appeal against his conviction and has retained the legal services of Kathleen T. Zellner & Associates. Because of her representation of Steven Avery, Kathleen Zellner was featured in the Netflix true crime documentary “Making a Murderer.”

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