DNA heightens breakthrough in PO cold case

The unsolved 2008 murder of Navy veteran Linda Malcom of Port Orchard could be closer to being solved thanks to the marvel of genetic genealogy, though it still will likely be years before the case ends.

Malcom suffered over a dozen stab wounds, and her body was found inside a burned residence on Sidney Avenue in Port Orchard. Her death and the housefire have remained a mystery since that early morning on April 30, 2008, but former U.S. Army counterintelligence agent Jennifer Bucholtz and her team at American Military University are determined to close the cold case.

“The more that we have learned about the crime itself, it has actually in some ways posed more questions,” she said in an interview, adding it has been a struggle waiting for results of forensics testing. “I think the testing has taken way longer than we anticipated. I know most places have a current backlog, but cold cases typically get designated down the list.”

Detective Andee Walton of the Port Orchard Police Department has searched through years of work done by other detectives before working with Bucholtz, saying she has become obsessed with the case but tried to remain realistic. “It would be complete ego if I said I was going to be the one to solve it, but my goal was to set up the next detective for success to, at the very least, exhaust all the leads,” Walton said.

Among those offering advice, perhaps most notable were talks with Paul Holes, the investigator credited with the identification and 2018 arrest of the notorious Golden State Killer. It was genetic genealogy, that is genetic testing with DNA found at the crime scene combined with research in genealogy databases, that helped identify the now-convicted Joseph James DeAngelo, whose name had never come up as a suspect.

“What’s fascinating to me when I first learned about all this is all of the 23andMe and family tree things that we see go on sale at Christmas time to give as gifts are actually the companies that work with law enforcement and these labs,” Walton said. “So we’re trying to contact these target people” in this case.”

More recently and locally, investigators used genome sequencing and genetic genealogy to link DNA from the 1995 killing of Patricia Lorraine Barnes to suspect Douglas Keith Krohne, who died in 2016. The case was over two decades old, reopened in 2018 and closed with the new DNA information in 2022.

Bucholtz and Walton believe a DNA sample recovered from the scene of Malcom’s death could determine a suspect in the case.

New leads have helped grab the attention of the state attorney general’s office and have made the DNA sample’s analysis possible. “We received a grant from the AG’s office where we were given a few investigators that were specifically assigned to our cold case,” Walton said. “And they have been investigating alongside us in addition to AMU doing their independent but also alongside us investigation.”

Still, questions remain, such as if there was a murderer and an arsonist at the scene at different times.

“You look at the murder, and it’s chaotic, disorganized, not well-planned. You look at the arson, it’s very well planned. They’re so different,” Bucholtz said.

Another question is if there are both a man and woman suspect. “My team is struggling to understand if this was a male killer, a big guy,” Bucholtz said about the attacker. “Why even need a knife when (Malcom) was five-foot-two…and so I really keep questioning if it’s a female that attacked her and a male that came back to set the fire. “

Walton hopes to continue spreading the message that the case is wide open. “We have so many other people out there that might have stories that could lead us to answers,” she said.

However the case ends, Malcom’s mother will never know. Donna died Dec. 30, 2023, surrounded by her family, ending her long wait for answers to her daughter’s death. But she was buried alongside Linda. “In a way, (the family) had found a little comfort in that because the 30th of the month is likely the same day that Linda died,” Bucholtz said. “I truly believe in a lot of cases, people kind of pick their time. Maybe she was waiting for that date for a reason.”

Bucholtz described Malcom’s mother as being horrified by the murder, but in the months leading up to her own death at age 95, it was as if she was reliving the heartbreak over and over again due to a deteriorating mental state. “She would still talk about Linda. She would get confused easily and sometimes think that she had just been notified that Linda was killed, and so that was really hard for them, too.”