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Video: Intern solves 36-year-old murder mystery

TODAY contributor
updated 10/23/2008 10:02:14 AM ET 2008-10-23T14:02:14

After 36 years, the family of Gerald “Jerry” Jackson had despaired of ever learning who had brutally murdered the Vietnam vet in his apartment. But now, thanks to an enterprising intern at the San Diego Police Department, the closure they have waited for so long appears to be finally at hand.

The suspected killer, 60-year-old Gerald Metcalf, was arrested last week in Texas and is awaiting extradition to San Diego to stand trial. The person responsible for cracking the case is Gabrielle Wimer, a 24-year-old criminal-justice major who looks forward to a career in crime scene investigation.

Thursday on TODAY, Jackson’s brother and sister, Michael Cameron and Linda Keim, were able to tell Wimer how grateful they are for her detective work.

Hoping for peace
“We really want to thank her a lot, and we really hope she has a long, long career in law enforcement,” Cameron told Wimer via satellite from Escondido, Calif. “To care about this is really amazing. We appreciate it.”

“It’s been a wonderful revelation,” said Keim, who was with her brother. “This young lady took the time and the trouble through this new technology, and our brother’s case was selected, and now we hope for peace.”

Wimer was in the TODAY studio in New York with co-anchor Matt Lauer and Detective Sgt. Tony Johnson, the head of the San Diego Police Department’s homicide unit and the man who told Wimer to go back through some of the 950 unsolved murder files that had accumulated over the course of nearly 100 years.

After starting a paid intern program last year, the department had used the interns in a variety of tasks, including data entry. Johnson has just seven detectives in the homicide unit — not enough to make a dent in the backlog of old cases that might now be solved with technology that wasn’t available when the crimes were committed.

A brutal stabbing
Jerry Jackson was a Vietnam vet and postal worker who worked part-time at a bar. He was last seen at work at the bar on Dec. 28, 1971. When he didn’t show up for his postal job, co-workers called police, who found his body in his apartment on Jan. 2, 1972. He had been stabbed 50 times and his apartment had been ransacked. His car was also stolen.

Police found the car abandoned in Mexicali, Mexico. Some of Jackson’s possessions had been pawned at a nearby pawnshop. Detectives were able to recover fingerprint evidence, but at the time, there was no national database to check them against. Unable to match the prints with anyone local, police finally shelved the case.

Michael Cameron and Linda Keim are the brother and sister of Gerald Jackson, murdered 37 years ago.
When Wimer opened the file, she found the fingerprints. “You could see the amount of evidence that the case contained,” she told Lauer. “I was just thinking, we have to resubmit this.”

She sent the prints to the FBI to run through their national database. After three or four months, Johnson got a call back. “They said, ‘We got a match on your case,’ ” the detective, who accompanied Wimer to New York, told Lauer. “When we looked at the circumstances of who the person was, it looked like it fit. Just, ‘This is the guy.’ ”

‘Out of nowhere’
When Johnson told Wimer that her work had resulted in a match, “It was incredible,” she said. “You put the evidence in the process, and you think maybe something will come of it. I didn’t hear anything for three to four months, and out of nowhere I got this phone call. It was a great feeling.”

The suspect, Metcalf, was described by a Texas newspaper as a disabled Vietnam vet who surrendered without resistance to police. He had been arrested in Texas in connection with another homicide several years after the Jackson murder. Metcalf was tried and acquitted, but his prints ended up in the FBI’s computers.

The body of Gerald Jackson was discovered in his apartment, stabbed more than 50 times.
Johnson emphasized that although his department considers the case closed, Metcalf has yet to be tried for the murder.

Cameron said that Metcalf is a stranger to them. “I never knew the name. I don’t recognize the picture. To my knowledge, we have no contact with him,” he told Lauer.

Wimer is on schedule to get her degree from Grossmont College near San Diego next year.

“I’m ready for hiring in May of 2009: crime scene investigation, CSI,” she said. “I want to be a forensic tech.”

“If it was up to me,” said Johnson, “We’d hire her right now.”

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