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Curious Vancouver, Wash., woman’s DNA upload leads to arrest in 1979 unsolved murder

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WATCH ABOVE: DNA leads to arrest in 1979 unsolved murder – Mar 27, 2019

A woman’s ancestral curiosity has been credited for helping solve a cold case more than 39 years old and several states away.

Brandy Jennings, a native of Vancouver, Wash., told NBC that she uploaded her DNA data to the website GEDmatch last summer but forgot about it until last week. She said she was in search of information regarding her paternal side because her father left when she was very young.

“My dad died in 2009 and my parents divorced when I was four-and-a-half and we moved out-of-state so I didn’t know my (biological) dad that well,” she said.

Then, last week, “I started getting messages from people in Iowa saying are you related to Jerry Burns,” Jennings said.

READ MORE: DNA from genealogy website used to find Golden State Killer

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Police arrested 65-year-old Jerry Burns on Dec. 19, 39 years to the day after 18-year-old Michelle Martinko was killed. Her body was found the next day inside her family’s car at a Cedar Rapids mall. She had been stabbed in the face and chest.
Police arrested 65-year-old Jerry Burns on Dec. 19, 39 years to the day after 18-year-old Michelle Martinko was killed. Her body was found the next day inside her family’s car at a Cedar Rapids mall. She had been stabbed in the face and chest. KGW via NBC

Jennings went on to explain that her DNA was discovered by police in Iowa who had previously uploaded DNA from a blood sample found at the scene of then 18-year-old Michelle Martinko’s murder.

As it turned out, a partial match pointed in the direction of 65-year-old Manchester resident Jerry Burns — a distant relative.

Burns was arrested Dec. 19 — 39 years to the day after Martinko was killed.

Martinko’s body was found the day after she was murdered inside her family’s car at a Cedar Rapids mall. She had been stabbed in the face and chest.

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This Dec. 19, 2018 photo provided by Linn County (Iowa) Jail shows Jerry Burns. Burns has pleaded not guilty to killing an Iowa high school student in 1979.
This Dec. 19, 2018 photo provided by Linn County (Iowa) Jail shows Jerry Burns. Burns has pleaded not guilty to killing an Iowa high school student in 1979. KGW via NBC

Records say Burns filed a written “not guilty” plea Jan. 25 in Linn County District Court. The charge: first-degree murder.

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His trial has been set for Oct. 14 in Linn County and he’s facing an uphill battle. Police say investigators matched a blood sample from the crime scene with a sample taken from Burns.

“I’m really glad I did it,” Jennings explained. “I can’t imagine being the family and not knowing for 39 years what happened.”

READ MORE: Canada’s DNA reveals surprising ancestry

— With files from the Associated Press