Suspect Arrested Nearly 40 Years After Teen's Brutal Murder While Christmas Shopping

Police said cutting-edge DNA technology helped them construct the face of the alleged killer after nearly four decades.

Thirty-nine years to the day after the brutal slaying of a beautiful teenager, her accused killer appeared in court. 

Jerry Lynn Burns, 64, who is accused murder in the first degree, was held on $5 million bail in an Iowa court Wednesday.   

Police said that cutting-edge DNA technology helped them construct the face of the suspect after nearly four decades. 

In 1979, 18-year-old high school senior Michelle Martinko was stabbed to death inside her car in the parking lot of a shopping mall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She had been singing with her high school choir and then went Christmas shopping to buy a winter coat. As years went by with no witnesses and few clues, the case went cold.  

Michelle's sister, Janelle, told Inside Edition the murder had a devastating impact on her family. 

“She was just adorable. She was very, very cute,” she said of her sister. “It destroyed my parents’ lives. Losing a daughter like that was just absolutely something that they did not recover from.” 

Then in 2017, there was a stunning breakthrough: Using the killer's DNA found at the crime scene, investigators built a portrait of the wanted man: white, blonde hair, blue/green eyes and of northern European descent. Cops age-progressed the image to show how he might look in modern day. 

Police then used a genealogy database to trace relatives of the suspect, which ultimately led them to Burns. 

Similar techniques were used to find the alleged Golden State Killer in California earlier this year and to solve several other high-profile cold cases.  

Prosecutors say DNA secretly taken from Burns matches DNA found at the crime scene.

“We're really thrilled. We were hoping this day would come,” the victim’s sister said.