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Police arrest a suspect in an Oregon city's oldest cold case homicide with the help of DNA

CNN logo CNN 6/12/2021 By Kay Jones and Christina Maxouris, CNN
a man wearing glasses: Robert Plympton, 58 © Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Robert Plympton, 58

Police in Gresham, Oregon, say a suspect in the city's oldest cold case homicide was arrested with the help of DNA technology more than 40 years since the crime.

Authorities arrested 58-year-old Robert Plympton on Tuesday and say he's responsible for the killing of 19-year-old Barbara Mae Tucker, according to a news release from the Gresham Police Department.

"For more than four decades, police were unable to clearly identify a suspect, make an arrest or charge anyone for the murder," the release said.

But with the help of advances in DNA technology and DNA ancestry databases and analysis by Parabon NanoLabs, authorities say they were able to connect physical evidence from the decades-old crime scene and find a DNA profile match that led to the arrest.

Parabon Nanolabs, a DNA technology company, said in a Facebook post that the company's genetic genealogy team assisted police in the case. The company produced its first match that led to an arrest in case three years ago in Washington state and has since touted that it has helped law enforcement solve dozens more cases.

Plympton made his first appearance Wednesday and his next court appearance is scheduled for June 17, court records show. He is charged with three counts related to Tucker's killing, including first-degree murder, second-degree murder and first-degree rape.

He is being held in the Multnomah County Detention Center, records show. Plympton was denied bail on the murder charges, according to the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, and a $250,000 bail was listed for the rape charge, according to jail records. CNN has reached out to Plympton's attorney for comment but has not heard back.

Victim was a college sophomore

Tucker, who was then a sophomore studying business at Mt. Hood Community College, was sexually assaulted and beaten to death, the release said.

On the evening of January 15, 1980, Tucker was seen running onto a road from a nearby wooded area and multiple witnesses at the time said they thought they saw the young woman waving, as if she was trying to get people's attention, police said.

One witness told authorities they saw a man come out of the shrubs and lead Tucker toward the school's campus.

She was found in nearby bushes the next morning, according to police.

"These cold cases are not lost or forgotten for our department," Gresham Police Chief Claudio Grandjean said in a statement. "Each one represents a person to our officers, and their tragic stories are passed down through the generations in hopes of one day bringing honor to their names and a sense of justice and closure to their cases."

"I'm hopeful this development will help Barbara's family and our community heal," the chief added.

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