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Suspect Arrested Nearly 25 Years After Teen Is Found Dead With Axe Wound

After meeting on a dating chat line, police say Jennifer Brinkman's suspected killer wrote her a letter and tried to arrange an in-person meeting shortly before her death.

By Jill Sederstrom
Killer Motive: What Drives People To Kill?

It’s been nearly 25 years since 19-year-old Jennifer Brinkman was found dead by her father in the bedroom of her Washington home after a violent axe attack.

On Monday, Marysville Police finally arrested the man they believe killed her, a now-52-year-old man whom Brinkman met through a popular dating chat line in the 1990s.

“Solving this case has been at the top of the priority list of the Marysville Police Department for the past 24+ years,” Marysville Police Chief Erik Scairpon said in a release from the department obtained by Oxygen.com. “We never gave up, or put this on a shelf. It was continuously being investigated, with the belief that we would one day be able to bring some level of closure for the family and justice for Jennifer.”

Detective Sgt. James Maples, of the Maryville Police Department, said at a press conference Tuesday that Jennifer was found dead in the bedroom of her home on March 21, 1998 after her father and his then-girlfriend returned home from a vacation in California and made the grisly discovery.

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Brinkman had been struck in the neck with an axe, which was left behind at the murder scene.

Evidence, including the axe, was sent off to the Washington State Patrol crime lab and as DNA technology advanced, analysts were able to identify a DNA profile left behind at the murder scene, referred to as “individual A,” but for years investigators didn't have anyone to match the sample to.

A police handout of cold case victim Jennifer Brinkman

“Jennifer was a social individual,” Maples said. “She encouraged conversation as she would go to the library, walk around town, she engaged in telephone chat lines, dating sites and actively sought companionship in people.”

Marysville Police Detective Wade Rediger said investigators got the break they needed after partnering with Virginia-based Parabon Nanolabs. Through the use of genetic genealogy, the company was able to provide investigators with a list of possible suspects.

One of the potential suspects was an individual that was already on the department’s radar. The suspect — who wasn’t named by police — had met Brinkman on a popular dating chat line.

Rediger described the chat line as a service where people could call in and be connected to another “random” person.

“Through that you kind of talk over the phone,” he said. “They could repeat over a series of time. Sometimes they transition to letters, sometimes they would transition to an in-person meeting, sometimes they would fizzle out and end right there.”

Rediger said after meeting through the chat line, the suspect “attempted to meet Jennifer and had sent her a letter just prior to her death.”

However, when the suspect was questioned by detectives earlier in the investigation he “denied ever knowing Jennifer or having met Jennifer.”

Armed with the new DNA analysis, investigators were able to secure a court order for the suspect’s DNA. Rediger said it was a match to evidence left behind at the crime scene.

At the time of the murder, the suspect lived approximately 3.5 miles from Brinkman’s mother’s house, authorities said.

Shortly after his arrest, he invoked his right to remain silent and Rediger said investigators still do not have answers to why Brinkman was killed.  

Even without a known motive, the arrest provides some closure for detectives, who have worked the case for more than two decades.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Robb Lamoureux, the investigations commander for Marysville Police and the original detective on the case said Tuesday of finally making an arrest. “It’s one of those things where it never leaves your thought process because it’s unsolved.”

Brinkman’s father died in 2013, but detectives were able to give her mother the news that an arrest had finally been made.

“She was extremely emotional,” Lamoureaux said. “She cried and was very thankful for the work that we put into it.”

The suspect is currently being held at the Snohomish County Jail on charges of first-degree murder, according to jail records.

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