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DNA helps solve cold case and identify 1980s serial killer in Eugene


{p}DNA technology helped investigators identify a serial killer responsible for the murders of three Eugene women in the late 1980s. The cases had gone cold until 2016, when advances in genetics put police on a path to the killer. (EPD){/p}

DNA technology helped investigators identify a serial killer responsible for the murders of three Eugene women in the late 1980s. The cases had gone cold until 2016, when advances in genetics put police on a path to the killer. (EPD)

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EUGENE, Ore. - DNA technology helped investigators identify a serial killer responsible for the murders of three Eugene women in the late 1980s.

The cases had gone cold until 2016, when advances in genetics put police back on a path to find the killer.

The suspect - John Charles Bolsinger - was born September 17, 1957.

"Bolsinger was arrested for murder in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1980 and ultimately served a five-year prison sentence before being paroled to Springfield, Oregon on March 7, 1986," according to police.

He killed two women barely three months later.

Police found Gladys May Hensley, 62, dead in her High Street apartment on June 5, 1986.

"The investigation revealed that the death of Hensley was a murder and that it was likely that she was killed in the early hours on June 4, 1986," police said.

Two weeks later on June 19, 1986, police found Janice Marie Dickinson, 33, murdered behind a car dealership on Coburg Road.

Police suspected the two cases were connected, but the trail ran cold.

Almost two years later on February 28, 1988, 73-year-old Geraldine Spencer Toohey was found murdered in her home on Franklin Boulevard.

The case appeared to be linked to the earlier murders.

"Several persons of interest were developed and thoroughly investigated over the years and were excluded through DNA comparison," police said. "All three cases lacked any strong leads."

That changed in 2016 - and the results of DNA analysis led police to again ask for tips in 2018.

The investigation focused on Bolsinger, who was in prison between the second and third murders.

He died March 23, 1988, by suicide - less than a month after Toohey's murder.

DNA put a face on the killer

Then in 2016, a new technology from Parabon Nano Labs made it possible to infer the physical characteristics of individuals based on DNA information.

"This service, Snapshot Phenotyping, was employed in this case and in September 2017 Eugene Police Investigators received the results," police said.

Police released the results in 2018.

"Detectives were hopeful it would generate new leads in the cases," police said. "The Eugene Police Department’s Violent Crimes Unit established a dedicated tip line for the cases. More than 100 tips were received and followed up on by VCU Detectives but all of the names provided were eliminated as suspects."

Parabon Nano Labs began offering Genetic Genealogy in May 2018.

Detectives used this service to identify four potential suspects.

"After extensive follow-up, and the analysis of additional evidence, the suspect was identified as John Charles Bolsinger," police said.

From prison in Utah to murders in Oregon

Detectives developed a timeline of Bolsinger's life from 1975-1988.

In the process, they learned Bolsinger had been arrested for murder in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1980.

He served a five-year prison sentence before being paroled to Springfield, Oregon, on March 7, 1986.

"Approximately three months later, Gladys Hensley was discovered murder. Two weeks later, Janice Dickinson was discovered murdered," police said.

Police in Springfield arrested Bolsinger on Sept. 26, 1986, in connection to a burglary in progress.

Officers were dispatched that day to the 300 block of South 51st Place.

"Upon arrival, officers heard the female complainant screaming and learned the suspect had fled the residence," police said.

According to police:

The female victim told officers she was at home and having trouble sleeping. She heard her dog making strange noises in the kitchen, so she went to investigate.
All of the interior lights were off. There was a light on outside, at the rear sliding door.
She saw a suspect peering through her kitchen window. She saw the window slide open and then the suspect reached inside and removed a brace in the slider.
She ran back to the living room and called 911. While on the phone, she saw the suspect walk into the living room.
He stood still for a moment and then approached her. She started screaming as the suspect tried to pull the phone from her hand.
She started striking the suspect with the phone and a flashlight. The suspect fled through the kitchen window. He left behind a down vest and paring knife.

Bolsinger ran from police but was captured by Springfield Police K9 unit.

"The suspect claimed he knocked at the door 3-4 times and then walked away when he didn’t get an answer," police said. "He claimed to have memory loss when questioned further."

Bolsinger was ultimately convicted and sentenced to 5 years in the Oregon Department of Corrections.

He was transferred to Utah State Prison on August 4, 1987, and remained there on a parole violation until Dec. 8, 1987.

Three days later, he enrolled at Lane Community College for the 1988 Winter Term.

Toohey was found murdered the following February 28, 1988.

"On March 5, 1988, the Oregon State Police released a sketch of the suspect in hopes of generating leads," police said. "On March 23, 1988, John Bolsinger was discovered deceased at his apartment which was located in the 100 block of Mill Street in Springfield, Oregon."

According to police:

The Eugene Police Department and the Oregon State Police are pleased to finally bring closure to the family members of Gladys, Janice, and Geraldine, as well as our community.
Both agencies remain committed to constantly evaluating unsolved cases and utilizing emerging technologies to bring closure to other families of crime victims.
This resolution would not have been possible without the dedication of numerous police officers, detectives, crime scene investigators, and crime lab analysts over the last 35 years.
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Police are still interested in learning more about Bolsinger's activities while in Lane County. If you have information about him, police ask you to contact Detective Jennifer Curry at 541-682-5166 or jcurry@eugene-or.gov

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