DNA test solves 45-year-old double-murder mystery in Montana

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)

BILLINGS, Mont. – A genealogical database that is used to with a family of DNA-evidence found in 1973 a crime scene has led investigators to identify the long-dead suspect in the strangulation killing of a young married couple, a Montana sheriff said Monday.

Linda and Clifford Bernhardt, both 24, killed in their Work area at home in a case that would stymie researchers for decades.

The researchers are now of the opinion that they were killed by Cecil Stan Caldwell, an ancient city of Billings employee who was once a colleague of Linda Bernhardt, Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder said. He did not identify a motive for the murder.

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

Family members of the victims lived at a press conference in which Linder name Caldwell as the defendant. The family in a statement thanking the sheriff’s office for her work, but gave no further comment and asked for privacy.

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.

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 reports at the time.

Hundreds of interviews were conducted, and the police at one point even brought in a psychic in their desperate search for clues to a crime described in the newspaper article as “the most sensational unsolved murder in Billings’ history.”

They have also enlisted the help of “The Amazing Kreskin,” when the mentalist visited the city, according to a 1980 news article.

Scott Goodwin, a volunteer with the cold case unit, who helped with the research, said 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.”

All other leads had dried up in 2004, when DNA was discovered on evidence gathered at the crime scene, Linder said.

But compare that DNA against the FBI database of known criminals yielded no results, leaving the authorities frustrated yet again.

In 2015, the sheriff’s cold case unit is called a Reston, Virginia, technology company, Parabon NanoLabs, for the analysis of the DNA by comparing it with genetic samples available through a public database. That process eventually narrowed the list of suspects to Caldwell and his brother, who is still alive and lives outside the area, said Vince Wallis, a former detective captain with the sheriff’s office, who now works for the billings of the Police.

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.

Wallis have other indications such as “unspecified behaviour” by Caldwell, connected to the suspect at the scene of the crime, but he refused to provide additional information.

An anonymous donor in 2013 had offered a $ 100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the couple’s killer.


Follow Matthew Brown on

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.

Most popular