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Cold case murders of Montana, a few solved after 45 years with the help of DNA evidence

Linda and Clifford Bernhardt were found dead in their Work-area home on November 7, 1973.
(Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office)

More than four decades after a young couple was discovered dead in their Montana home, authorities revealed Monday that they finally tracked down their killer with the help of a genealogical database.

The Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office announced that Linda and Clifford Bernhardt, both 24, killed in their Work area at home in 1973 by a former colleague of Linda.

“Today we can tell you that on the basis of the data collected on the scene, in which the biological evidence and all reasonable conclusions taken from this evidence, we have determined that Cecil Stan Caldwell, a former co-worker of Linda Bernhardt at Ryan’s Inc. is the person responsible for the death of Linda and Clifford Bernhardt,” Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder told reporters. Caldwell died in 2003.

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Clifford Bernhardt was a concrete worker and Vietnam veteran and his wife worked at a supermarket distribution warehouse. She was married a few years moved to a new house just weeks before they were killed.

Photos of Linda and Clifford Bernhardt, who were killed in 1973, are shown at a press conference in Yellowstone County administrative offices in Billings, Montana on Monday, March 25, 2019. Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder, pictured at right, says authorities have determined that the pair of the now deceased killer.
(AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

Linda Bernhardt had been bound and sexually assaulted before her death, and the authorities used psychologists try to build a profile of the suspect, according to the Billings Gazette.

Linder said that evidence collected at the place of the home, including biological evidence, to be bound Caldwell to the murders, although he did not identify a motive. The sheriff, however, believed that Linda was the target of Caldwell.

Caldwell had no criminal record and died in 2003 at the age of 59, according to his obituary in the Billings Gazette.

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Authorities had conducted hundreds of interviews over the years, even to a psychic at a given moment as part of their search for clues.

Researchers remained a barrier until 2004, when DNA was discovered on evidence gathered at the crime scene, according to the sheriff. But compare that DNA against the FBI database of known criminals yielded no results, leaving the authorities frustrated yet again.

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In 2012, the county formed a cold case unit, that the murders were a priority. Three years later, the device is switched to a Reston, Virginia-technology company, Parabon NanoLabs, for the analysis of the DNA by comparing it with genetic samples available through a public database.

Scott Goodwin, a volunteer with the cold case unit, who helped with the study, told the Associated Press that he and others involved were not prepared to let it go.

“We were obsessed with it,” Goodwin said. “These two young people who do not deserve what happened to them. They didn’t do anything. She came home on a Tuesday night and they were murdered.”

After running it by means of a public database, officials eventually narrowed the list of suspects to Caldwell and his brother, who is still alive and lives outside the area, according to Vince Wallis, a former detective captain with the sheriff’s office, who now works for the billings of the Police.

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Wallis said that after the DNA was obtained voluntarily from the brother, it was analyzed by the Montana State Crime Lab to eliminate him as a suspect. That left only Caldwell, Wallis said.

“It is the nature of the policing that we are blessed to have in Montana every day,” Montana Attorney General Tim Fox told reporters.

The families of the victims issued a statement at the press conference, thanking the sheriff’s office for her work, but gave no further comment and asked for privacy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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