An unsolved murder that went cold for 37 years may have been solved, thanks to the persistence of a writer who became obsessed with the case. Last Monday, police in Antioch, California announced that they arrested a man they believe is responsible for the 1980 kidnapping and murder of 14-year-old Suzanne Bombardier.
Mitchell Lynn Bacom, 63, was arrested over a week ago. On Thursday, he entered no plea and waived his right to a speedy trial. Writer Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons has been credited with not only shining some light back on the case again but also for having it reopened earlier this year.
Shockingly, she has no experience reporting on crime and especially not homicide. Still, something drew her to Suzy’s story.
“Four years ago I was visiting my grandparents' grave in Lafayette, California,” Jennifer told Oxygen.com. “During my visit, a man came up to me and asked for a pen. I didn't have one, so he went to the office to get a pen. Curious, I looked at the grave he was looking at. The girl was named Suzanne Arlene Bombardier. What struck me right away was the fact she died exactly a month before my grandmother did in 1980. The gravestone is even made of the same pink marble. Several months later I came back. I visited my grandparents, then Suzie. This time I Googled her. And then I found out she was murdered.”
That’s when the obsession began. Soon, Jennifer started up a blog all about Suzy, called The Lost Girl. At first, she thought she needed to convince an established journalist to bring more attention to the case, but no one had the time or the interest.
“Although I've taken journalism classes, I didn't think I was a journalist,” she confessed. “Journalists are Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Linda Ellerbee, and Amy Goodman.”
Eventually, she realized she was the only one willing to write about Suzy’s story and she decided that her effort would be better than no effort at all.
“I knew the Antioch police wouldn't talk to me; I wasn't affiliated with any news organization. That was huge,” she told Oxygen.com. So, she began researching on her own. She looked up old microfilm at a library to learn about the tragic case. Suzie, an honor roll student who loved Rod Stewart, vanished while babysitting her nieces on June 22, 1980, and a few days later her body was discovered by a fisherman in the San Joaquin River. The teen had been raped and stabbed in the heart.
There were times during Jennifer’s research that she almost gave up.
“So many times I wondered what am I doing? This feels like I'm on a fool's errand. One time I felt frustrated and discouraged. It just felt like there was nothing but dead ends,” she said.
During one of those moments, she walked into a restaurant and Rod Stewart's "You're in My Heart" was playing. “I almost started to cry. This was Suzie's favorite song. The title of the song is inscribed on her grave. So I thought okay Suzie, I won't give up. At least for today.”
And give up, Jennifer didn’t.
She arranged a meeting between former Antioch Police Department detectives Gregory Glod and Ron Rackley and Bombardier’s family. Together, they were able to persuade the Antioch Police Department to reopen the case. DNA helped make an arrest.
“Thanks to new DNA technologies, they sent DNA taken from Suzie's body and new tests were ran, resulting in a perfect match with the suspect,” Jennifer said.
Now, Jennifer said she feels like a real journalist.
“I've learned that tenacity does pay off,” she said. “I tend to be a stubborn person, which is good and bad. This time it was definitely good.”
She has some advice for others who want to bring other cold cases back into the spotlight.
“Create a digital footprint of the person,” Jennifer suggested. “ Find out more about them: what books did they like? What singers, movies? Get pictures if possible. Also take care of yourself first and foremost. This can be incredibly heavy work. You don't want to get sick. If you need to take a break, take a break. But never ever give up completely. Keep pushing that old rock over the mountain, somehow you'll get it to the other side.”
[Photos: Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons]