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Crime News Cold Cases

Wash. Man Charged With 1988 Rape, Murder Of Wisconsin Mother Found Near Train Tracks

Betty Rolf, 60, vanished during a 15-minute walk from her Appleton, Wisconsin home to her place of work. The next day, a police officer found her partially-nude body underneath the gravel with a purse strap wrapped around her neck. 

By Jax Miller
How To Use DNA To Crack A Case

A Washington State man has been charged with the rape and murder of a Wisconsin mother more than 30 years ago.

Gene Clarence Meyer, 66, is charged with first-degree intentional homicide and first-degree sexual assault in connection with the 1988 death of Betty Rolf, according to a criminal complaint reviewed by Oxygen.com. Outagamie County authorities in Wisconsin say the 60-year-old victim disappeared while walking to work and was found raped, beaten, and strangled underneath a bridge in Appleton — about 30 miles southwest of Green Bay.

Further investigation showed Meyer, of Eatonville, Washington, lived in Valders, Wisconsin — about 40 miles east of Appleton — but received food stamps during the mid-1980s at an Appleton rooming house located one mile from where Rolf’s body was discovered.

Meyer would have been 22 at the time of the murder.

Rolf’s granddaughter, Sue Srnka, told ABC Green Bay affiliate WBAY-TV there was “definitely some shock” after learning of Meyer’s Wednesday arrest.

RELATED: Widower Speaks Out After Convict Is Indicted In His Wife's 1980 Murder And Sexual Assault

“We didn’t know if this person was deceased or this person had other crimes,” Srnka stated. “We just didn’t know.”

Rolf vanished on Nov. 6, 1988, during her 15-minute walk to work at Appleton’s Country Aire Banquet Room, a straight path from her West Spencer Street home, according to the complaint. Rolf’s daughter, Sheila Wurm, told reporters Rolf decided to walk because she was fearful of driving in the snow.

Rolf’s husband reported her missing the following morning when she failed to return home.

A police handout of Gene C. Meyer

Less than 20 minutes after the report, an Appleton police officer traced Rolf’s steps and found her body face-down on West Spencer Street. She was “covered” with loose gravel “next to the bridge footing support adjacent to the railroad tracks,” according to the complaint.

“She was laying parallel to [an] approximately 8-foot high concrete wall with part of her body touching the wall,” according to the complaint. “Because she was behind the concrete wall, her body would not have been visible to any train operating on the railroad tracks.”

Though Rolf still wore a winter coat, she was nude from the waist down and a black purse strap was wrapped around her neck. A postmortem examination also revealed blunt force trauma to the head and face and minor trauma to her knees, according to the criminal complaint.

It was believed the rape and murder took place in the very spot Rolf's body was found.

Investigators were able to collect the suspect’s DNA following vaginal and rectal swabs, though DNA testing by the Wisconsin Crime Lab was not yet sophisticated enough to yield conclusive results. However, a reexamination in 2001 did provide a male DNA profile, though submission into a federal database at the time did not produce results.

In 2019, with the help of genetic genealogy, investigators used “specialized software” to upload the DNA profile in hopes of finding the suspect’s possible biological relatives. The entry eventually helped them narrow in on two people who could have been responsible for Rolf’s rape and murder: Gene Meyer and his brother, listed in the criminal complaint by his initials, CM.

“[CM] told investigator Fitzpatrick that he believed his brother, Gene, to be dead,” authorities stated.

Soon, the brother was eliminated as a suspect, leaving only Gene Meyer.

Following this line of inquiry, investigators tracked down Meyer’s niece, referred to by her initials, BAS, who said that sometime in the 1980s, Gene called BAS’s mother (Gene’s sister) and said, “Thank you for everything” and “goodbye,” according to the complaint.

“She [BAS] stated that she felt that something was bothering her mother after that phone call and that there was something that her mother was not tell[ing] her regarding the phone [call] from Gene,” according to investigators. “Her mother told her, ‘I have a secret. I have a secret, and it’s going to go in my grave.’”

On Nov. 21, federal authorities found Meyer in Washington and obtained his DNA from the door handle of the suspect’s Dodge Ram.

“The DNA profile from the swabbing of the defendant’s truck matched the DNA profile of the sperm found on the vaginal swabs which were obtained during the autopsy of the murdered victim,” according to the complaint. “The likelihood ratio statistic calculated for this comparison is greater than one quadrillion.”

The Outagamie County Sheriff’s Office announced Meyer’s arrest on Thursday, thanking FBI agents in Washington and Milwaukee, as well as the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, who arrested Meyer.

Jail records show Meyer is being held on fugitive charges at the Pierce County Jail in Washington on $2 million bond and awaits extradition to Wisconsin.

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