Police: DNA, forensic genealogy helps solve 40-year-old homicide of Portland woman

Anna Marie Hlavka - KATU image.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Police detectives say they've tied a convicted killer to a decades-old cold case homicide in Portland, all thanks to some well-preserved DNA and forensic genealogy - much like the technology that helped investigators catch the "Golden State Killer."

According to police, Anna Marie Hlavka was found dead on July 24, 1979 at her apartment on Northwest Couch Street.

Nearly 40 years later, authorities say they have identified her killer as Jerry Walter McFadden, who was convicted of several rapes and murder in Texas.

Investigators say the 20-year-old Hlavka was last seen alive outside the apartment building around 5 p.m., when she returned home from work at the nearby McDonald's. Officials say she had been living with her boyfriend at the time, and that they were talking about getting married.

Authorities say she was “strangled and may have been sexually assaulted." Investigators followed several leads in the case, however, the trail eventually went cold.

In 2009, volunteer detectives with the bureau sent several pieces of evidence to the Oregon State Police Crime Lab, including the unknown male DNA profile from Hlavka's case.

"We were lucky that in this case the evidence was preserved, so it was pristine when I received it," said Dr. Janelle Moore, a senior forensic scientist with the Oregon State Crime Lab. “It continues to be a landmark cold case for me, from a scientific perspective, that we can get viable profiles from evidence that is so, so old. Lucky for us, the fingernails weren’t examined when DNA technology wasn’t available.”

In May of 2018, detectives looked into using forensic genealogy to help find matches to unidentified DNA profiles from homicide scenes.

They were able to send a DNA profile from Hlavka's case to Parabon NanoLabs, where a genealogist was able to map some relatives of the convicted killer Jerry Walter McFadden.

McFadden was executed in 1999, before DNA profiles were entered into the FBI's database.

According to records, McFadden sentenced to 15 years in prison on two counts of rape in 1973 and got parole in December 1978. He traveled to the Pacific Northwest in 1979 with an acquaintance.

Later that year, he was convicted of aggravated sexual abuse after he kidnapped and raped an 18-year-old at knifepoint. He was paroled again in July 1985.

Authorities say he was arrested in May 1986 for the rape and killing of an 18-year-old high school cheerleader, and for shooting two other people. He escaped incarceration and held a corrections officer hostage while awaiting trial, sparking what was deemed "the biggest manhunt in Texas history."

Officials say McFadden's criminal exploits changed the parole qualifications in Texas.

Detectives are still working to piece together McFadden's time in the Portland area. If you lived in the area in 1979 and recognize him, contact Detective Meredith Hopper at Meredith.Hopper@portlandoregon.gov

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