(BILLINGS, Mont.) — Investigators solved a double slaying that occurred more than 45 years ago after using a genealogy database to match DNA from the crime scene with the genetic profile of the now-deceased suspect, a Montana sheriff said Monday.
Linda and Clifford Bernhardt, both 24, were found dead in their Billings-area home in November 1973 in a case that would stymie investigators for more than four decades.
Investigators now believe the couple was killed by Cecil Stan Caldwell, a longtime city of Billings employee who was once a co-worker of Linda Bernhardt, Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder said.
No motive was given. Caldwell died in 2003 at the age of 59, according to his obituary in the Billings Gazette.
Family members of the victims attended a news conference in which Linder named Caldwell as the suspect. The family issued a statement thanking the sheriff’s office for its work, but made no further comment and asked for its privacy to be respected.
Scott Goodwin, a volunteer with the cold case unit who helped on the case, said those involved in the investigation had been unwilling to let it go even after all prior leads hit dead ends.
“We were obsessed with it,” Goodwin said. “These are two young people who didn’t deserve what happened to them. They didn’t do anything. They came home on a Tuesday night and they were murdered.”
The case had remained cold until 2004, when DNA was discovered on evidence gathered at the crime scene.
But comparing that DNA against an FBI database of known criminals yielded no results, leaving authorities frustrated.
In 2015, the sheriff’s cold case unit enlisted a Virginia-based technology company, Parabon NanoLabs, to analyze the DNA by comparing it to genetic samples available through a public genealogy database. That process ultimately narrowed the list of suspects to Caldwell and his brother, who is still alive, said Vince Wallis, a former detective captain with the sheriff’s office who now works for the Billings Police Department.
After DNA was obtained from the brother, who is still alive, it was analyzed by the Montana State Crime Lab to eliminate him as a suspect. That left only Caldwell, Wallis said.
Wallis added that there was other “unspecified behavior” that matched Caldwell to the crime scene, but he declined to offer additional details.
An anonymous donor in 2013 had offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the couple’s killer.