Search for cold case killer heating up after 15 years

It has been over 15 years since the severely stabbed body of 47-year-old Linda Malcom, a Navy veteran and former paralegal, was brought out from the rubble of her burned rental home in Port Orchard.

Initial leads that included a person of interest in the April 30, 2008, killing dried up and, to date, it remains one of only two unsolved homicides in the city. The other, the murder of Hi-Joy Bowling janitor James E Smith, is nearly 62 years old.

The killing of Malcom is being looked at again. Even after all this time there is hope that the cold case can be solved as a pair of podcasting investigators say the trail to catching the killer is heating up.

Right after the killing, Port Orchard Police Cmdr. Geoff Marti led the investigation, and a Kitsap Daily News article from May 2, 2008, describes the house off Sydney Avenue as being swarmed by local and state-wide investigators, as well as a trained “accelerant dog” from the Seattle Police Department.

However, as time went by, one of Malcom’s sisters, Sherry Lopez, said the case kept switching hands. The long work done first by detective Marvin McKinney was then handed to another detective, Jim Foster, in 2010, according to another Kitsap Daily News article from May 1, 2014.

“It kept getting passed on to somebody else,” Lopez said. “It didn’t seem like anything was happening again for a while.”

Malcom’s case is one of dozens submitted to Jennifer Bucholtz, leader of a volunteer Cold Case Investigative Team at American Military University and a former U.S. Army counterintelligence agent. She and partner George Jared, an author and investigative journalist, have worked to reopen cold cases nationwide with the intention of getting a conviction. Cases they have worked on include the 16-year-old murder mystery of Rebekah Gould of Arkansas, whose killer was just sentenced last October.

Jared hopes to have a similar ending with this case, which was referred to them by Mike Booker, Malcom’s nephew and a student at AMU. The pair took interest in the case early on due to its perceived solvability as well as a heightened presence of behavioral analytical traits, something that he said could not be analyzed properly by smaller departments like Port Orchard’s back in 2008.

“A lot of local law enforcement agencies…they don’t always have the resources to do that type of work, and we have the expertise, and we have the time, and we’re willing to do it because, Jen, I think it’s fair to say, this is kind of a calling for us,” he said.

The investigation is being documented through AMU’s Break the Case podcast, where Bucholtz takes listeners through the ground-up approach they use to begin their investigation.

“We operate off the assumption we’re not getting the case file,” she said. “We have not gotten the case file, and that’s fine. We kind of actually prefer to just start fresh and do our own thing—uninfluenced, unbiased, but we need something to bring to the table.”

The team has met with city officials twice to discuss details of the case and present findings. “You know, they’re doing their own thing,” Port Orchard police chief Matt Brown said. “They share information with us, and if it’s something that we can do, then we’ll do additional follow-up.”

The fresh start has allowed the team to consider the biggest and smallest elements of the case, questioning experts on anything from what type of knife was used to speculating how Malcom’s lifestyle may have led to her death.

From the start, one of the biggest points was the level of overkill the assailant took to end her life. Autopsy reports indicate more than a dozen stab wounds, and while it’s believed that Malcom fought back, Jared said it was a brutal murder.

“17 wounds in some murders would be just enough,” he said. “The case we did before, people were saying it was overkill, and we were like, ‘No, the killer did just enough to kill her.’ In this case, it was overkill, bad.”

So was the fire that followed, which Jared and Bucholtz believe was set in the house away from Malcom. That may have been done as a hasty attempt to cover up evidence, but work is still being done to secure that theory as they talk to experts in that genre of work.

In addition to interviews with experts, the pair has collaborated with the community of Port Orchard, gathering and presenting details on the “Unsolved Murder of Linda Malcom” Facebook group and visiting with city officials to raise awareness surrounding the case.

The investigation has given family members of Malcom a difficult trip down memory lane. Lopez said she can’t bring herself to listen to the podcast knowing how horrific the murder was. “It’s hard because if they have to get down to the real nitty gritty, you don’t want to replay it again. I don’t want to know the gory details fourth and fifth time again,” she said.

After just a few months, Jared and Bucholtz feel they are honing in on a suspect. Their message: that he or she should be scared. “I feel very, very, I guess, satisfied right now. The case is basically being worked as hard as a department can work it,” Bucholtz said.

Jared said the number of suspects is dwindling into single digits. “We told at the meeting we had today, it wouldn’t shock us at all if any one of these three or four ended up being the person who actually did it,” he said.

Chief Matt Brown has also confirmed high activity in the case and that multiple agencies, including federal, are actively participating. He said they’ve been collaborating with the FBI and the state Attorney General’s Office.

Malcom’s family is hopeful that a killer can be found. Rochell Malcom, another sister, said: “I’m so thankful for these two, because if it wasn’t for these two, it’d probably still be on the shelf collecting dust.”