Skip to Content

39-YEAR BREAKTHROUGH: Manchester man charged with murder of Michelle Martinko

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KWWL) — UPDATE: A cold case cracked, a man is now behind bars, decades after a brutal slaying of a young woman whose body was found in a mall parking lot.

64 year-old Jerry Lynn Burns is being charged in the death of 18-year-old Michelle Martinko. The news breaking last night during a quickly assembled news conference by Cedar Rapids Police.

The arrest made even more remarkable coming on the very day, 39 years ago that Martinko died.

According to police on December 19th, 1979 Martinko had driven her families 1972 Buick Electra from a school banquet to the mall, to shop for a winter coat.

On the early morning of December 20th, 1979, Martinko was found stabbed to death in her car, in the parking lot of the Westdale Mall just after 4 a.m.. Her parents had reported her missing around 2 a.m. Martinko had been stabbed multiple times in the face and chest and had defensive wounds on her arms.

This had remained an active investigation for the Cedar Rapids Police Department.

Today, it was standing room only in the courtroom as those present waited eagerly for a glimpse at the man police said committed that brutal murder so many years ago.

It was an anxious day in court. Burns quickly took his seat and clasped his hands. He remained silent throughout the hearing. Only speaking once to answer the judge.

“Sir do you want to fill out an application for court appointed council? “I’d like to fill out an application,” said Burns. “Alright….”

Bail was originally set at $3 million but the prosecution asked it to be raised to $5 million, calling burns a flight risk.

“He has evaded police for 39 years. He does own a business and given his age he would have resources and knowledge to run,” said the prosecution.

The judge agreed, “For reasons stated by the county attorney I do believe a high cash bond is necessary.”

Martinko was a senior at Kennedy High School. A beautiful young woman who will forever remain 18.

Janelle Stonebraker, her sister, never gave up looking for Martinko’s killer. She and her husband attended a news conference back in 2017 about a DNA profile update. At the time Janelle told KWWL that their parents never got the answers they desperately wanted.

“I think it’s a closure issue. I really think it is and plus it’s the nagging question, how could this have happened? How did it happened? The questions we’ve had or who done it of the whole thing of all these years has been on our mind all of the time,” said Stonebraker.

This trial may turn out to be the closure that Martinko’s parents never got before they died.

Burns will remain behind bars at the Linn County Jail, unless he makes the cash bond.

There is a preliminary court hearing scheduled for next Friday.


UPDATE: Police in Cedar Rapids say an arrest has been made in the Michelle Martinko case, with 64-year-old Jerry Burns of Manchester taken into custody on a first-degree murder charge. Burns is being held in the Linn County Jail.

Police made the announcement during a news conference on Wednesday night, 39 years to the night after Martinko’s body was found. During the news conference, authorities said DNA testing helped to identify Burns as a suspect. Burns was questioned at his place of employment in Manchester on Wednesday, and denied any involvement, but could also not explain why his DNA had been recovered from the scene, according to police.

Burns will make an initial appearance in Linn County District Court in Cedar Rapids tomorrow, and authorities say he will eventually be scheduled for trial.

His court appearance is scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KWWL) — At around 4 A.M. on December 20, 1979, police found 18 year old Michelle Marie Martinko in her family’s 1972 Buick in Cedar Rapids Westdale Mall parking lot. She had been stabbed in the face and chest repeatedly.

For nearly four decades, the case has remained unsolved.

More information on the case can be found at the Iowa cold cases website.

You can watch Burns’ initial court appearance here:

Author Profile Photo


Skip to content