SALEM, Ore. – A dedicated detective and a family who refused to give up helped solve a 38-year-old cold case in Oregon.
On March 9, 1979, 18-year-old Janie Landers went missing. She was a mentally challenged patient at the Fairview Training Center formerly located in Salem. The now shuttered facility was run by the state for those with significant mental disabilities. Though she was a young woman, Janie operated at the level of an 8-year-old child. At just 5’1” tall and 105 pounds, she had a reputation for being “unexpectedly strong and quite feisty,” according to the Marion County District Attorney’s Office.
It was initially regarded that Janie voluntarily walked away from the facility before she went missing. Despite this, police started an investigation, interviewing numerous witnesses and creating a composite sketch of a man who was seen in the area around the same time Janie disappeared.
Janie’s body was found five days later in the Silver Falls area. It was clear to investigators she was dumped after being brutally beaten and stabbed multiple times. She had defensive wounds and deep cuts to her neck. The ultimate cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to the head. She had not been sexually assaulted.
A murder case turns cold
Though there was a lack of physical evidence, Oregon State Police worked to generate any solid leads. Those who knew Janie were eventually ruled out as suspects and the case went cold.
Over the years, the case was revisited by multiple detectives, but no strong theory on the case or suspects ever developed. However, Janie’s sister Joyce–who was 13 at the time Janie was murdered–never forgot and never gave up. Prosecutors said she would constantly urge detectives to reopen the case. In 2015–when Joyce was 50–the case finally went somewhere.
The case was pulled from the cold case file and assigned to Oregon State Police Detective Steve Hinkle. He reviewed all the current evidence and reconnected with all the witnesses he could.
The D.A. said the brutal attack on Janie was made with a knife that lacked a hilt, making it more likely her attacker had been injured in the struggle. Detective Hinkle worked with forensic scientists and detectives in an attempt to isolate the killer’s DNA from blood on Janie’s shirt.
In April of 2016, an OSP crime lab confirmed they had found the DNA of a male, identified at Gerald Kenneth Dunlap. The man had at no point been a suspect in any previous investigations into Janie’s murder, nor had be ever been contacted by detectives.
A history of violence
According to prosecutors, Dunlap was no stranger to the criminal justice system. In 1961, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for raping a woman during an armed robbery in Tennessee. However, he was granted parole in 1973 and moved to California, where he was required to register as a sex offender. In an apparent attempt to avoid registration in California, he moved to Salem, Oregon in 1974. There, he got married and had young son. He also began working at the Fairview Training Center as a laundry worker. He remained employed at the facility until 1983 when he was fired for inappropriate behavior toward women.
In 1996, Dunlap was convicted of a sexual offense against a girl he was related to. The sentencing required his DNA be put on file in a national database. Dunlap died in prison in 2002.
Even though the DNA evidence and his criminal history made Dunlap a strong suspect, detectives worked to confirm his involvement. Using payroll records, detectives established the fact he was working at the Fairview Training Center during the time Janie was a patient. In fact, he was working the same day she disappeared.
Photographs taken of Dunlap were discovered that dated back to 1972. The photographs were compared to a sketch of the murder suspect and the resemblance between the two was hard for detectives to ignore.
Detectives also spoke to witnesses and showed them Dunlap’s photo. They confirmed he was the man they saw Janie with prior to her disappearance. Dunlap had also been confirmed to frequent the area where Janie’s body was found.
When the investigation was complete, it was forwarded on to the Marion County District Attorney’s Office, which determined Gerald Dunlap is solely responsible for the murder of Janie Landers. The D.A.’s office thinks Janie’s small stature and cognitive disabilities would have made her a prime target for a sexual predator like Dunlap. They wrote, “He likely offered her a ride and, given Janie’s intellectual disabilities, she was easily convinced. 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. If Dunlap was alive, the District Attorney’s Office would have filed a Murder charge in this matter. His death in 2002 means that no further action can be taken in this case.”
On October 30, 2017, Detective Hinkle returned a few of Janie’s belongings to her family. An earring and two small hair ties are all she left behind. Det. Hinkle said, “It’s not much. 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.”
Janie’s sister, Joyce, said, “I’m really grateful and relieved that it’s done. She can be totally at peace now because her case is solved.”
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