Law enforcement used DNA taken from a Walmart in Iowa to identify a former truck driver suspected of killing two women and abandoning their bodies near Wyoming highways decades ago, according to court documents unsealed Wednesday.
Authorities on Wednesday morning arrested the former trucker, Clark Perry Baldwin, 59, at his home in Waterloo, Iowa. He faces two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of "I-90 Jane Doe" and "Bitter Creek Betty." Although the women's bodies were found in 1992, they have never been identified.
In addition to the Wyoming prosecutions — which will be held in Sheridan and Sweetwater counties — Baldwin faces another two murder charges in Tennessee that allege he killed a pregnant woman in 1991. He will be tried there before answering to the allegations in Wyoming.
"I don't know what the Webster's Dictionary definition of a serial killer is," Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation Commander Matt Waldock said by phone Wednesday. "But that's what I'd call him."
The death of the woman now known as Bitter Creek Betty has been public since her body was found by another trucker on March 1, 1992, when she stopped at the Bitter Creek truck turnout on Interstate 80 in Sweetwater County. The female trucker informed law enforcement of the corpse, and an autopsy determined that the woman was strangled before being killed by a puncture wound in the face consistent with an ice-pick attack. Snow was found packed under her body, which authorities have said could have been left at the side of the highway for months before it was discovered.
Authorities recovered fingerprints from the scene, but they couldn’t find a match. An Arizona tattoo artist said he thought she was a Hispanic woman who had hitchhiked around the country, but couldn’t otherwise identify her.
In April of the same year, state transportation workers workers found a body in Sheridan County. That victim was also not identified, and investigators called her "I-90 Jane Doe."
Court documents filed earlier this year in Sheridan County Circuit Court and made public following Baldwin's arrest lay out details of the investigations conducted by Wyoming DCI and the Tennessee 22nd District Attorney General's Office that led to investigators' arrest of Baldwin in the cold cases. Shortly after the discovery of I-90 Jane Doe, an autopsy determined that the victim was a white woman who was about 2-½ months pregnant when she was killed, the documents state.
The forensic pathologist found that she had likely sustained a blow to the head but did not determine a cause or manner of death. Semen was found on her genitals, the documents state. That yielded a partial DNA profile.
In 2006, DCI asked a research scientist at the University of Wyoming to examine evidence from the Interstate 90 crime scene. The body of I-90 Jane Doe, the researcher determined, was placed at the crime scene about two months before the transportation workers' discovery.
A year later, DNA swabs taken from Bitter Creek Betty's genitals and an ice sample from the crime scene brought back a complete DNA profile, the documents state. That did not, however, match any information in state and federal DNA databases, according to the documents.
In 2012, the Wyoming State Crime Lab found that the DNA taken from Bitter Creek Betty's body matched the DNA found on I-90 Jane Doe's body, the documents state.
The role of DNA
Then, in May of last year, DCI agents spoke with a Tennessee investigator who had reopened the 1991 investigation, the documents state. The DNA in that case — when uploaded to a national database — matched the DNA in the Wyoming cases. The victim in that case — who is referred to as Pamela McCall in Wyoming documents but as Rose McCall in a Tennessee press release — was 20 weeks pregnant at the time of her death. She, like the two women in Wyoming, was found near the side of a road. According to the court documents, near her corpse were skid marks left by a tractor trailer. She had been strangled to death.
In June of last year, DCI agents met with investigators for the Tennessee prosecutor's office. Those investigators turned over clothing taken from the body of McCall, according to the documents. When Wyoming lab workers examined the clothing, DNA found there matched the DNA taken from the Wyoming crime scenes, confirming the database result. That DNA sample was submitted to a private lab and, when compared with a "publicly accessible DNA database," brought back a list of people potentially related to the suspect.
The nature of the database is not fully made clear in the documents, and Waldock said early Wednesday evening that he couldn't immediately describe the DNA matching process.
The description of the investigation in the court documents, though, is similar to the process that was used in the arrest of a California man two years ago on suspicion of being the Golden State Killer, whom authorities think killed a dozen people in California over the course of more than a decade.
Baldwin, according to the court document filed in Sheridan County, is linked to other cases: In 1991 he had been investigated in Texas on suspicion of sexually assaulting a woman there. He admitted to the crime and was released the same day. It is not clear if the alleged assault in Texas was ever prosecuted. As part of an Iowa homicide investigation dating to 1992, Baldwin's ex-wife told law enforcement that he had bragged about "killing a girl out west by strangulation and throwing her out of his truck," according to the documents.
In April of this year, investigators on an FBI task force took trash that they saw Baldwin throw in a dumpster, the documents state. They collected the trash.
The FBI investigators also — after watching Baldwin handle merchandise while shopping at Walmart — then took the items and swabbed for DNA the handles of a shopping cart he used, the documents state. The Wyoming State Crime Lab found the DNA taken from the trash and the Walmart trip matched the DNA found at the cold case crime scenes.
On Wednesday morning, FBI agents and Tennessee investigators arrested Baldwin in Iowa, according to the DCI statement. He will be transported first to Tennessee to face two counts of first-degree murder. In that state, authorities can charge a person for murder of an unborn child, in addition to the charge alleging he murdered the expectant mother.
It is only after those charges have been resolved that Baldwin will come to Wyoming to face the cases here, Waldock, the DCI commander, said. Waldock added that because the woman in Tennessee had been identified by name, law enforcement thought it better for surviving family members to charge the case there first.
Waldock declined to say whether law enforcement thought that Baldwin could be linked to other homicides. He said, though, that he hopes the arrest will lead other agencies to examine their unsolved cases.