DNA evidence key to breathing new life into cold case

Published on Tuesday, 25 February 2014 23:12 - Written by



A gruesome murder nearly 25 years ago turned into a cold case for investigators. As time marched on, records and knowledge were lost.

Twenty-four years, later Kilgore police have a suspect who’s proving difficult to track down.

By most accounts, there’s only one person outside law enforcement left in Kilgore who really cares about solving the 1990 murder of Joy Burns.

“Been on there a long time,” Jim Brinkley said as he pointed out a bullet hole in the back of the liquor store he owns and once rented to Burns.

“Joy was a very nice lady,” Brinkley said. “She was frail, small in frame. Give you the shirt off her back.”

Burns ran the store herself until one day when the wrong customer pulled up outside.

“This guy walked in that door that day and ordered a six-pack of beer,” Brinkley said. “She got the beer for him, put it in the sack. He gave her a ten dollar bill. She rang it up and when she did, he started around the counter.”

Burns grabbed the handgun she kept for protection but the man got it out of her hands and she ran to the back of the store.

“She came back here, got a butcher knife and came back out,” Brinkley said. “She was laying right here on this mat. So she probably got, probably got right here when he shot her. Because she fell backward on that mat.”

It was Brinkley who asked Kilgore P.D. to re-open the case after all these years.

Criminal Investigations Supervisor Trae Portwood holds the case file, which had to be re-built because records from before the age of computers were missing.

But the evidence was preserved.

“We do have a sample that’s possibly consistent for DNA,” Portwood said.

Genetic testing has come a long way since 1990.

Where the original investigators believed they had nothing to go on, new techniques have uncovered what could be the killer’s DNA. It’s even been put into the national database but no matches have been found.

“Then I realized it’s somebody that’s actually been looked at back in 1991,” Portwood said.

Even with a temporary DNA dead-end, Portwood thinks the answer has been staring everyone in the face from the beginning.

“They were not able to ever definitively tie him to the offense,” Portwood said.

He wouldn’t say who the original suspect was, partially because finding him will be both incredibly simple and unusually hard.

“The suspect has actually been deceased since 1991,” Portwood said.

With the likely killer six feet under, Portwood said he doesn’t have the probable cause to exhume the body. So now he’s looking for the dead man’s relatives, a DNA sample from them will match DNA from all those years ago and prove — whoever he is — that he killed Burns.

“That was useless. Senseless,” Brinkley said. “Because he could have grabbed the beer and run out the door with it and she wouldn’t have chased him.”

Maybe then Brinkley will be able to get some rest.

“The only thing he got out of this store was the gun he shot her with,” he said. “The ten dollar bill was still laying cross-ways in the drawer.”

If you remember anything about the murder of Joy Burns at the Rose Package Store in 1990, call Kilgore Police at 903-983-1559.