After 20 years, girl's murder still unsolved

March 16, 2009|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,frank.roylance@baltsun.com

Tracey Lynn Kirkpatrick would be 37 today, a wife and mother, perhaps, and maybe an attorney.

Instead, she is mourned by her parents, her family and friends. Twenty years after her murder, she is also never far from the minds of the Frederick police investigators, who have worked since March 15, 1989, to solve the mystery of her violent death.

The Kirkpatrick family and Frederick police marked the anniversary of Tracey's killing with a brief vigil last night at the Westridge Shopping Center, where she was stabbed to death at 17.

Police hope that fresh attention to the cold case might finally bring them the final clues they need to bring the killer to justice.

Tracey's two sisters and a brother remain in the area, as do her parents, William and Diane Kirkpatrick.

"Everybody says, 'It's been 20 years. Don't expect too much, because it's been 20 years,' " Diane Kirkpatrick told The Frederick News-Post. "I look at them and say, 'Not for me.' It was yesterday for me."

She can't comprehend how the killer could live with such a secret for 20 years. "How can someone just go on with their lives like it's nothing?" she asked.

Frederick police say their continuing work on the case can be understood in the context of a smaller city which, even today, sees annual homicide counts in the single digits.

"You have to go back 20 years," said Lt. Shawn Martyak, 49, the commander of the department's criminal investigation division and a Frederick policeman for 24 years.

"Frederick probably had half the population, maybe 30,000," he said. "And while we got a murder now and then, this was a 17-year-old girl who was, according to friends and family, very squared away, very conservative. She made good decisions about her life and was planning for college.

"This shocked the entire community. It's not something anybody expected to occur in sleepy little Frederick," he said.

With retirements and reassignments, four Frederick detectives have worked on the case over the years.

"Every detective that has been assigned, from the very beginning, has taken the case personally," Martyak said. And each one has consulted with his predecessors, reviewing the case file annually, discussing new developments and considering new ideas.

The case was featured in 1990 on the TV programs A Current Affair and Unsolved Mysteries, and Frederick merchants put up most of a $5,000 reward, without success.

According to news accounts at the time, Tracey, from Point of Rocks, was an honor student at Brunswick High School. She wrote and published poetry and hoped to study accounting and go to law school. She had two part-time jobs and drove a 10-year-old Pontiac Grand Prix she paid for herself.

On the night she died, she was working alone at the Aileen Ladies Sportswear store in the Westridge Square Shopping Center, on U.S. 40 west of downtown Frederick.

Most of the plaza's stores closed at 9 p.m. When a security guard saw the lights at Aileen's were still on at 10:50 p.m., he went inside. He found Tracey's body in a rear storeroom. Police said she had been stabbed several times in the back and chest. There was no evidence of a sexual assault. The door had not been forced open, and $60 remained in the cash register. Tracey's purse was missing.

A man waiting in the front parking lot for his wife or girlfriend told police he saw nothing unusual. But investigators found blood drops in a rear hallway leading to the loading dock and trash bins. No weapon was ever recovered.

Two suspects developed over the years remain "viable," Martyak said. But while "it's plausible either one of them could be the killer, in both instances it falls short of having the last piece of the puzzle that's missing to corroborate that [either one] actually committed the crime."

In 1989, DNA technology was comparatively crude, and "very cost prohibitive," Martyak said. It was not until 1998 that a sample was submitted for testing. It was insufficient to develop a genetic profile of the killer, as was a second sample submitted in 2003.

But technology has advanced to where analysts can extract a DNA profile from no more material than is left by a touch. So Frederick police several weeks ago submitted "touch samples" from the case to a private contractor for the Maryland State Police. "We think this may be our best shot to get some other type of DNA, other than hers, from the crime scene," Martyak said. Test results are not expected for several months.

Police already have DNA samples from both of the suspects. Detectives check on them periodically.

In the meantime, investigators have presented the Kirkpatrick case file to two "cold case review panels," one national and another for the Mid-Atlantic region.

A relatively new concept and a first for Frederick, Martyak said, these independent panels of police investigators, evidence analysts, crime scene and forensic experts comb case files and suggest new leads or new technologies the local police might not have considered. "We expect this case to be reviewed by both panels sometime this year," he said.

Martyak said police continue to receive information about the case. "It's never too late," he said. "Even if they think the information they have doesn't help, call us anyhow and let us decide.

"If we can keep it fresh in people's minds, maybe - just maybe - we can get that one piece of information we need to bring closure to the case ... for the family," Martyak said.

Anyone with information about Tracey Kirkpatrick's murder is asked to call Frederick Police Detective Jerry Morales at 301-600-1226.

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