How DNA Helped Identify A 1980s Serial Killer And Solve Three Cold Cases

On September 26, 1986, Oregon's Springfield Police Department was called to a home on the 300 block of South 51st Place on reports of a burglary in progress. When they arrived on the scene, the suspect had already fled. However, the victim was still terrified about the incident.

In a press release, the Eugene Police Department said the woman was in bed for the night when she heard her dog making unusual noises in the kitchen. When she got up to check on the dog, she was startled to see a man staring at her through the kitchen window. As the man then began to open the window and reach inside, she ran to the living room to call authorities. In the meantime, the man proceeded to enter the home through the window and followed the woman into the living room.

When the man attempted to take the phone from her, she began screaming and striking him with the phone and a flashlight. According to the Eugene Police Department, the man eventually gave up and left the home through the same window he entered. However, he left his coat and a small knife behind. The man, who was eventually identified as John Bolsinger, was arrested and charged with breaking and entering. He was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison. At the time, nobody realized the woman had narrowly escaped the clutches of a serial killer.

John Bolsinger was convicted in the 1980 murder of Kaysie Sorensen

Although authorities were not yet aware John Bolsinger was a serial killer, he was previously convicted of murder. On March 29, 1980, Bolsinger met 33-year-old Kaysie Sorensen at a bar called Bill's Lounge in Magna, Utah. As reported by Leagle, Sorensen approached Bolsinger when he entered the bar and spent the rest of the evening watching him play pool. Witnesses said Sorensen "put her arms around" Bolsinger several times and kissed him on the cheek. Bolsinger and Sorensen left the bar together at approximately 10:00 p.m.

The pair reportedly went back to Sorensen's apartment, where they had sexual intercourse in her bed. Those details have never been disputed. However, the evening concluded abruptly when Sorensen ended up with the cord of her clock radio wrapped tightly around her neck, and she subsequently died of strangulation. According to Leagle, Bolsinger was ultimately arrested and charged with murder in Sorensen's death. During his initial interrogation, Bolsinger said he wrapped the cord around Sorensen's neck after they had intercourse, and she had "got kinda weird like" and began acting indignant" He insisted he did not intend to kill her.

However, during his trial, Bolsinger said he lied during the interrogation and Sorensen actually wrapped the cord around her own neck during intercourse and asked him to pull it tight. When he realized she was dead, he allegedly fled the scene.

John Bolsinger's conviction was ultimately overturned

John Bolsinger was ultimately convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to five years in prison. However, as reported by Leagle, the Utah Supreme Court later determined there was "insufficient evidence to support a conviction for murder in the second degree as charged." Therefore, it ordered the trial court to "set aside the verdict and to enter a judgment of conviction for manslaughter."

According to the Eugene Police Department, Bolsinger was released from prison on March 7, 1986. Following his release, Bolsinger seemed to stay out of trouble until his September 1986 arrest for breaking and entering. After spending just over one year in prison on that charge, he was released on December 8, 1987. In an effort to seemingly better his life, Bolsinger enrolled in classes at Lane Community College. However, he was found dead in his Springfield, Oregon home on March 23, 1988, before the classes were scheduled to begin. His death was ruled a suicide.

Between June 1986 and February 1988, the Eugene Police Department and the Oregon State Police were called the scenes of three separate murders, which they ultimately concluded were committed by the same person.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Three Oregon women were killed in the late 1980s, and all three cases went cold

As reported by the Eugene Police Department, on June 5, 1986, authorities were called to an apartment in Eugene on reports of a deceased person. The woman, who was later identified as 62-year-old Gladys May Hensley, had not been seen or heard from for several days prior to the grisly discovery. Law enforcement officials determined that Hensley had been murdered, most likely during the early morning hours of June 4. However, they did not find any evidence linking a particular person to the heinous crime.

On June 19, 1986, the body of a woman, who was later identified as 33-year-old Janice Marie Dickinson, was discovered behind a car dealership in Eugene. According to the Eugene Police Department, the woman was found nude, and authorities found evidence that she had been sexually assaulted. Her death was eventually ruled a homicide, but authorities were unable to identify a suspect in the case.

On February 28, 1988, the Oregon state police were called to the residence of 73-year-old Geraldine Spencer Toohey. The Eugene Police Department reports that evidence was found suggesting someone forcibly entered Toohey's home and sexually assaulted her before killing her. Although her death was ruled a homicide, authorities did not identify a suspect in the crime.

Law enforcement officials ultimately determined all three women were killed by the same person, who was likely a serial killer. Although authorities identified several persons of interest, they were all eventually ruled out through DNA testing. All three cases went cold and remained unsolved for several decades.

New technology helped authorities identify a serial killer

In 2016, authorities gained access to new technology called Snapshot Phenotyping, which uses DNA to create composite sketches of a suspect. Using DNA collected from the scenes of the unsolved murders, the Eugene Police Department released the sketches and established a new tip line in 2018. Although they received more than 100 tips, detectives ultimately ruled out all of the tips as unsubstantiated.

That same year, authorities submitted the crime scene DNA for Genetic Genealogy testing. As a result, four individuals were identified as possible suspects in the unsolved murders of Gladys Hensley, Janice Dickinson, and Geraldine Toohey. After reexamining the evidence and timelines in all three cases, detectives began focusing on John Bolsinger.

As reported by the Eugene Police Department, law enforcement officials determined that the murders of Gladys Hensley and Janice Dickinson occurred within four months of Bolsinger's release from prison for the murder of Kaysie Sorensen. They further determined the murder of Geraldine Toohey occurred just over two months after his release for the breaking and entering charge.

Detectives ultimately eliminated the three other suspects and concluded that Bolsinger killed Hensley, Dickinson, and Toohey. As he died by suicide more than 30 years before the cases were solved, Bolsinger would never face charges for his crimes. However, law enforcement's refusal to give up has finally provided the families of the victims some degree of closure.

Authorities are still seeking information about John Bolsinger

Although it took more than three decades, the families of Gladys Hensley, Janice Dickinson, and Geraldine Toohey finally know who took the lives of their loved ones. In addition to their commitment to work together to solve all three cases, the Eugene Police Department and the Oregon State Police thanked all of the detectives, crime scene investigators, crime lab analysts, and detectives who spent countless hours working on the cases and ultimately helped identify John Bolsinger as the killer and bring closure to the families. The department is also thankful for the advances in technology that made it possible to identify the Bolsinger.

Still, the hunt isn't over — authorities are seeking any information about Bolsinger and other crimes he may have committed prior to his death. Time will tell if he committed more atrocities that are waiting to be uncovered.