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Authorities made an arrest last week in a string of vicious, methodical rapes dating back to the 1990s, with the help of the “Cold Justice: Sex Crimes” team.
Mark Douglas Burns, 69, was arrested at his home in Utah for allegedly committing a series of rapes in Utah cities Clearfield, Layton and Ogden; and in Laramie and Rock Springs, Wyoming, according to a Clearfield Police Department news release.
The nine rapes police described as “incomprehensible, brutal and methodical” spanned from 1991 to 2001, they said.
All the attacks had similar modus operandi, but the cases crept along, apace with DNA-matching technology, according to former Texas prosecutor and “Cold Justice: Sex Crimes” host Casey Garrett, who worked on the cold cases with a multi-jurisdictional task force starting in 2015.
It was then that DNA preserved from each case was linked together, and police eventually matched Burns’ DNA, concluding he was their suspect.
“It brought all the detectives to the table, working together with a common goal,” Garrett told Oxygen.com. “That was awesome — so many different eyes and ears, each with a stake in the investigation, though.”
The perpetrator appeared to target women who were single — or who he believed were single — and who lived in apartments, Garrett said. He also usually gained entry through a sliding glass door. Numerous survivors also said their attacker smelled of alcohol and threatened them with a gun or a knife, according to police.
In a 2001 Clearfield attack, the perpetrator came into the woman’s bedroom while her family was home. Wielding a gun, he tied up her husband, brother and 19-year-old daughter in the bedroom, then repeatedly assaulted the woman and daughter in front of the rest of the family, Deseret News reported.
The rapist didn’t appear to target a specific age range, according to Garrett —his oldest victim was 52, and his youngest was 11 when he assaulted her, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
The 1992 rape of the 11-year-old, identified as Nicole — also in Clearview — didn’t perfectly fit the M.O. of the other attacks because, in this case, he abducted the girl, Garrett said. On the 2015 “Cold Justice: Sex Crimes” episode, police interview footage shows Nicole describing her rapist trying to keep her quiet when her stepfather entered a nearby room in her house.
“He put a knife up to my neck and told me not to make a sound,” Nicole said on the episode.
The attacker then is thought to have taken Nicole from her home, drove her elsewhere, raped her and returned her to her home.
“He got spooked” by the girl’s stepfather entering the picture when he was preparing to rape her, according to Garrett.
“I felt like I was very lucky he brought me home and didn’t kill me,” Nicole told police.
Garrett said that Nicole’s case was almost lost to time before the task force in 2015 took another look at it because of the attack’s similarities to the others they were investigating. But, they would need more than the similar details in order to prosecute it. Luckily, “forward-thinking” investigators helped ensure that Nicole still had a chance for justice — the rape kit from her case was still sitting, preserved, in an archive.
As “Cold Justice: Sex Crimes” co-host, former prosecutor Alicia O’Neill, explained on the episode, at the time of Nicole’s rape, Utah had a brief statute of limitations on sexual assaults — as short as four years from the date of the incident.
However, because other jurisdictions had a John Doe warrant out for their suspect based on his DNA, when the task force tested the rape kit from Nicole’s case, the DNA matched, and her case was open again.
“Once the John Doe warrant was issued, it essentially stopped the clock on the statute of limitations” in the Utah cases under investigation, O’Neill explained on the episode.
“Without the John Doe warrant, we wouldn’t have been able to prosecute that a—hole,” Garrett told Oxygen.com. “Those warrants were very forward thinking … They saved Nicole’s case.”
Burns is charged with eight counts of aggravated sexual assault, six of aggravated kidnapping, two of aggravated burglary and one of aggravated robbery — and there are likely more charges to come, police said.
“Because of the grievous and brutal nature of these crimes, detectives believe there are more victims, and do not believe Burns suddenly stopped committing such heinous crimes since 2001,” police said in the release.
Garrett agreed with the Clearfield Police Department’s assessment.
“Many of us started believing this guy had died, because we stopped getting DNA,” Garrett said. “It doesn’t mean he stopped raping … Did he lose the functional use of his penis, or did he just get real careful? Somebody like that doesn’t just stop.”
Police in Laramie and Rock Springs also plan to charge Burns for the attacks in their jurisdictions, Clearfield police said in their statement, also encouraging other departments in the region to review their cold cases and rape kits that haven’t yet gone into the FBI’s national Combined DNA Index System.
Garrett said she was grateful to survivors, who spoke with “Cold Justice: Sex Crimes” and helped the task force in 2015. She also credited the foresight and dedication of local authorities in keeping the two-state investigation alive for nearly 30 years, despite a number of apparent dead ends.
“The detectives — I almost start crying when I talk about it — they never gave up on this,” she told Oxygen.com “They never shelved this case.”
Burns appeared in court on Sept. 30, where he indicated that he will hire a private attorney to fight the rape charges, according to Utah newspaper the Standard-Examiner. He is being held without bail until his next appearance on Oct. 16.
“Cold Justice” returns to Oxygen with a new season — including the story of another heinous crime the team helped to solve — in early 2020.
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