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. Researchers solution of a double murder that took place more than 45 years ago with the help of a genealogical database to match the DNA from the crime scene with the genetic profile of the deceased defendant, a Montana sheriff said Monday.
Linda and Clifford Bernhardt, both 24, were strangled in their Work-area home in November 1973 in a case that would stymie researchers for more than four decades.
The researchers are now of the opinion that the couple was 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.
No motive was given. Caldwell had no criminal record, Linder said, 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 his privacy to be respected.
Scott Goodwin, a volunteer with the cold case unit, who helped with the research, said that those involved in the case had wanted to let go, even after all of the preceding leads hit dead ends.
“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.”
The case remained unsolved until 2004, when DNA was discovered on evidence gathered at the crime scene.
But compare that DNA against the FBI database of known criminals yielded no results, leaving the authorities frustrated.
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.