It was two years ago when the murder case of 18-year-old Janie Landers first landed on Oregon State Police Detective Steve Hinkle’s desk.
In his 12 years with the state police, Hinkle had investigated several homicides.
But this was his first cold case.
On Thursday, police laid out more details from the decades-old case during a press conference in Salem.
Landers was a patient at Fairview Training Center when she went missing on March 9, 1979. Functioning at the level of an 8-year-old, she struggled with learning challenges and behavioral issues that led to her residency at the now-closed state facility in Salem.
Five days after her disappearance, Landers’ body was found along a path near Silver Falls State Park. The spot was an obvious dump site. There were no signs of a struggle, no blood and little physical evidence.
An autopsy revealed she died from blunt force trauma to the head. She had multiple defensive wounds and deep cuts on her neck.
“Janie fought very hard,” Hinkle said. “Probably unexpectedly due to her very small stature, but she was a fighter.”
Police spoke with four witnesses who spotted Landers talking to a man in a gold-yellow sedan the day she disappeared. Detectives interviewed several suspects and tried to track down the mystery-man in the sedan, but new leads soon dried up and the case grew cold.
“I knew when I got assigned it that there was a low statistical likelihood that we’d solve it …,” Hinkle said. “But I just did it anyway.”
For cases like Landers’ to be solved, some critical things are needed, said OSP criminal investigations Capt. Jon Harrington.
The first is a vocal, persistent family advocate. Landers’ sister Joyce Hooper was only 13 when she was murdered. Hooper repeatedly urged OSP to reopen her sister’s case. In 2015, she contacted them again, hoping to find closure while her father was still alive.
Harrington said the next ingredient was a dogged detective.
“Detective Hinkle is extremely hardworking, extremely intelligent,” he said. “He put a lot of his own time into this case. He really took it under his wing and brought it to where it was.”
Hinkle reviewed Landers’ autopsy report. Her body was riddled with deep cuts and defensive wounds. He took a closer look and saw there were no hilt abrasions on her wounds.
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SOURCE: Statesman Journal, Whitney Woodworth