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DNA profile links felon to ’86 killing

Forensic scientist Anna Wilson examines biological evidence  (Colin Mulvany)
Forensic scientist Anna Wilson examines biological evidence (Colin Mulvany)

Montana man arrested; similar cases probed

DNA has linked a Montana man to a Spokane woman’s 1986 slaying, and police are checking to see if his biological profile is a match in at least three other unsolved homicides in Spokane that bear striking similarities.

Gary L. Trimble, 62, of Lincoln, Mont., faces a first-degree murder charge in the death of Dorothy E. Burdette, who was found dead in High Bridge Park on Christmas Day 1986. Police said she’d been severely beaten and appeared to have been sexually assaulted. She died of asphyxiation.

In the other cases – Ruby Jean Doss, 27; Mary Ann Turner, 30; and Kathleen DeHart, 37 – the women suffered blows to the head, most were sexually assaulted, and all were strangled. The women were killed in 1986 and 1987.

“It’s highly unusual to have more than one killer, killing like that,” said Spokane police Major Crimes Detective Kip Hollenbeck, who is leading the investigation into Burdette’s death. He added that killers who asphyxiate their victims do it because that particular method excites them.

The break in Burdette’s case came late last week. A DNA profile extracted from evidence in the woman’s killing was matched to Trimble in the national Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS.

The Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office arrested Trimble on Friday for a probation violation in an unrelated case. Hollenbeck obtained an arrest warrant for Trimble, charging him with Burdette’s murder, and went to Montana.

“After about an hour of interviewing, he asked for a lawyer,” Hollenbeck said. “He was nervous.”

Trimble did say he was a visitor to Spokane during the mid-1980s. Officials said the man’s criminal history puts him in cities all around the Northwest during the last 25 years.

Hollenbeck called Burdette’s three children on Monday to tell them about Trimble’s arrest.

“Since day one, we’ve been waiting,” said her daughter, Linda Iwanow, 61. She and her brothers, Tom and Robert. were relieved to hear the news, Iwanow said. “It has been quite a while. I wasn’t exactly young, but it still stings like anything else.”

Burdette lived at an apartment at 212 S. Washington St. next to the Mayfair Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge. She was last seen leaving the Mayfair on Christmas Eve with a man who told Burdette, then 62, that she reminded him of his dead mother.

Burdette’s husband had died a little more than a year before. A daytime bartender said that she had been “lonely and bored” in the intervening months and accepted the offer of a drink from a man who was described as a drifter.

Burdette’s body was found under Interstate 90 in High Bridge Park. She had been wrapped in a blanket and appeared to have been transported to that location, police said.

Turner and Doss were also found outside; DeHart was found in the basement of a home.

No one was identified as a suspect in Burdette’s death during the initial investigation. Police later interviewed another man as a potential suspect based on similarities between Burdette’s death and another murder he had confessed to.

In 2005, evidence from the scene was submitted to the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab for DNA analysis. In 2008, the lab reported that semen had been identified on the victim’s bra and on the blanket. A single male profile was developed from the semen samples and entered into the Combined DNA Index System. No matches were found at that time.

Trimble has a long criminal history, including theft, domestic violence and robbery, police said. His DNA information wasn’t entered into the database until recently, however, when he was required to submit a sample because of a conviction for felony intimidation.

Nearly every state requires convicted felons to submit DNA for the national database, authorities said.

“They don’t know for sure it’s him, but this time they have DNA,” Iwanow said. “I hope it’s the right person, and he has to pay for his crime.”

The Independent Record of Helena contributed to this story.