Two decades-old slayings out of Atascadero were recently solved — and one sheriff’s detective has more cold cases on his list.
Forty-one more, to be exact.
The cases span a period of about 40 years: from 1967 to 2009, when Templeton resident Jerry Greer was found shot to death in his bed. Greer’s son was named a person of interest in 2018, but that’s been the only development in the case.
Det. Clint Cole is working to get Greer’s case — and those 40 other cases — solved.
“You never know if you’re going to solve one or not, and when you do, it’s a really good feeling to give closure and answers to the family and friends of the victim,” said Cole, who’s worked with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office for about 28 years. “It’s very rewarding to work on these cases.”
Cole became San Luis Obispo County’s dedicated cold case detective in June 2017, when the Sheriff’s Office received funding from the county Board of Supervisors to create the position. Before, cold cases were only worked on when detectives had time.
“That’s how things get lost,” Cole said. “They work on it and then their desk gets cluttered with new cases. Having this position is really beneficial.”
Cole started out scouring the county’s cold case files, looking for any kind of evidence that could lead authorities to a suspect — primarily anything that could be tested for DNA.
He started focusing on two Atascadero cases that had been cold for decades: Jane Antunez and Patricia Dwyer, who were believed to have been killed by the same man in the late 1970s.
On Nov. 18, 1977, Antunez, 30, was found with her throat slit in the backseat of her car in Atascadero on a “little used dirt road” near Highway 101 and Santa Barbara Road, according to Tribune archives from 1977 and 1978.
Less than two months later, Patricia Dwyer, 28, was found dead in her rented home on Del Rio Road in Atascadero on Jan. 11, 1978, according to Tribune archives. She had been stabbed in the chest.
When Cole looked through Antunez and Dwyer’s cases, he noticed that there were a lot of items that could be tested for DNA — including semen that had been found on both victims — and, in 2005, a detective entered the suspect’s DNA into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which allows forensic laboratories at the federal, state and local levels to exchange and compare DNA profiles electronically.
“There’s no doubt DNA is one of the biggest factors in solving these old cold cases, as long as the evidence was collected properly,” Cole said. “In this case, they did an excellent job of collecting evidence and it was stored properly so it didn’t degrade.”
The suspect DNA never came back with a match, which led Cole to believe that the suspect was either dead or hadn’t been arrested in California since 2009, when DNA testing became mandatory for anyone arrested on suspicion of a felony offense .
In 2018, the California Department of Justice’s familial DNA search team conducted a familial DNA search to find matches. In February of this year, the search turned up a match: a relative of a man named Arthur Rudy Martinez, who died in a Washington prison in 2014. The relative was in the system because he had been arrested for an unrelated felony.
Martinez had been paroled to Atascadero in 1977, lived in the North County for roughly six to seven months, and then is believed to have fled in January 1978, according to the Sheriff’s Office. He relocated to Spokane, Washington, where he was arrested for a series of robberies and rapes and was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in November 1978.
He escaped in 1994 and spent the next 20 years living under an alias in the Fresno area before turning himself in to Washington authorities in 2014, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Officials tracked down a girlfriend of Martinez who lived with him in Fresno and used an old razor of his to confirm Martinez’s DNA.
In April, the Sheriff’s Office identified Martinez as the suspect in both Antunez and Dwyer’s killings.
“There is no doubt this case may not have ever been solved if it wasn’t for the job they did at the initial stages of this investigation,” Cole said.
“It’s amazing we finally have the closure on it,” Monica Betts-Campbell, Patricia Dwyer’s niece, told The Tribune in April. “I am sad to think he’s gone and he won’t stand trial, he won’t pay for his crimes. But at the same time, we have the closure now.”
Other unsolved cases
Cole is currently looking into a few cases from the 1970s and ’80s, including the death of 16-year-old Cheryle Manning, who was found shot in the head on the Cuesta Grade in June 1978, and the 1980 slayings of Martha Jo Ann Mezo and Teresa Lynn Flores, small children who were found dead on the banks of the Salinas River north of San Miguel.
The bulk of the county’s cold cases took place in the 1970s and 1980s, with a few in the 1990s, Cole said.
Cold cases can be challenging: the Dwyer and Antunez cases had a lot of DNA evidence, but not every case has that, Cole said.
“Sometimes, there’s just a lack of evidence,” Cole said. “A lot of times evidence is missing, it’s been lost somewhere going to and from Department of Justice labs and private labs or it’s just mishandled by investigators.”
Cole said he feels hopeful about evidence in Manning’s case that he recently sent off to the Department of Justice Lab in Goleta for testing.
“I don’t want to jinx myself, but I feel good about that case,” Cole said, noting that the lab is busy, and it could take a while for them to process the evidence.
“I like being an investigator because you can finish the cases for people ... we have the time to see them through to the end,” Cole said. “I hope I keep solving them.”
Notable SLO County cold cases
- Cheryle Manning: The 16-year-old from McMinnville, Oregon, was found shot in the head on the Cuesta Grade in June 1978. Police weren’t able to identify her for 14 years. By the time she had a name, both her parents were dead: her father of a heart attack and her mother of suicide.
- Martha Jo Ann Mezo, 4, and Teresa Lynn Flores, 5: The two girls from San Miguel went missing on May 17, 1980. Their bodies were discovered 12 days later in a shallow grave near the Salinas River, 7 miles north of San Miguel. In 1984, Henry Lucas and Ottis Toole confessed to murdering the girls, but were later discredited.
- Jerry Greer: The 71-year-old Templeton man was found shot to death in his bed in March 2009. In August, Greer’s son Brian, a retired state correctional officer who had worked at Soledad State Prison, was named a person of interest in the investigation.
- Dorothy Tate: The Estes Park, Colorado, woman was found dead in her van 2 1/2 miles north of Hearst Castle on Nov. 15, 1983. Tate, 41, had been shot in the head. The best lead detectives had was a camera stolen from Tate’s van, which they were eventually able to trace to a pawn shop a few years later. However, by that time, the camera had changed hands multiple times and none of the transactions led to an arrest.
- Andrea Hug: The 30-year-old woman from Garberville was found dead on a rocky beach north of Spooner’s Cove in Montaña de Oro State Park on Oct. 12, 1998. Her death, originally ruled an accidental fall, was reopened as a homicide in January 2003 after the Sheriff’s Office re-examined evidence.
Anyone with information about San Luis Obispo County cold cases is encouraged to call Det. Clint Cole at 805-788-2157.