Iowa cold case break has some hopeful Martinko murder is next

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- The recent arrest of a murder suspect connected to an Iowa cold case homicide in Henry County is bringing hope to the friends of Michelle Martinko, a Cedar Rapids teen killed December 19, 1979.

Michelle Martinko (Courtesy: Robert Riley)

Authorities found her body the next day with stab wounds to the face and chest. She was inside her family's Buick, parked at Westdale Mall. Investigators concluded the homicide to be "personal in nature."

Elizabeth Laymon, a friend, and classmate of Martinko's remembers that day well, nearly 38 years following the 18-year-old's death.

"We went to school that day and it wasn't announced," said Laymon. "We all kind of found out through classes we were in. I'd sit through classes where people were crying and I didn't know why, until someone finally told me. The media showed up and then it was real."

Laymon, and the more than 1,100 in the Facebook group "Michelle Martinko Cold Case 1979," which Laymon helps manage, anxiously await updates on the Martinko investigation.

The group constantly posts stories on big leads in other cold cases across the country, like what just happened in Henry County. Authorities arrested Michael Syperda, Thursday. A grand jury indicted the former Mount Pleasant 52-year-old for the first-degree murder of Elizabeth Syperda, his estranged wife, who disappeared in 2000.

It's fuel for the hope that Martinko's case is next.

"Cedar Rapids is just never going to let it go," said Laymon. "Even though her parents are gone, we're just not going to let it go."

This year brought Martinko's case its own breakthroughs. In May, local and state authorities announced they had used DNA, recovered from the crime scene, to generate renderings of what the teen's killer might look like.

For guys like Robert Riley, who's been helping family and friends research the murder for years, it was a big step forward.

"If we get the right tip, it's easy to say, 'does the person look like him?'" said Riley. "'What's his DNA doing in the crime scene?'"

The lead did its job. As of September, authorities had collected more than 100 new tips for the case. Still no big break, like an arrest.
But, it hasn't slowed Martinko's supporters in their search for answers.

"We're not going to quit, you know. We're not going to quit."

To date, the DNA evidence officers discovered in 2006 has ruled out more than 100 people from the investigation.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Cedar Rapids Police or the Linn County Crime Stoppers.