Updated: April 26, 2013 at 12:00 am
In a linen closet on the 10th floor of the Antler’s Hotel in Colorado Springs, Janet Conrad’s body lay naked from the waist down, hands bound with a vacuum cleaner cord, mouth gagged with a washcloth.
Black-and-white photos documenting the 38-year-old hotel housekeeper’s grisly death haunted Springs police investigators for more than three decades — until modern science provided a break.
Detectives on Friday recounted how a long, frustrating investigation into the previously unsolved Dec. 3, 1976, rape and murder led police to Robert Baillie, a convicted rapist and Colorado prison inmate whose DNA was allegedly found to match a genetic profile developed from biological evidence preserved by police through the years.
Baillie, 58, was ordered bound over for trial on first-degree murder charges at the conclusion of the daylong hearing before 4th Judicial District Judge Timothy J. Schutz. His arraignment is scheduled for June 20.
An autopsy found that Conrad, a housekeeper at Antler’s for seven years, had been bound, gagged, sexually assaulted and choked to death. A washcloth was held in place in her mouth by stockings wrapped tightly around her head. On her right breast was a bite mark inflicted by her rapist.
For at least one veteran investigator, word of Baillie’s January 2012 arrest brought memories flooding back.
“As soon as I heard her name, I was right back at the Antler’s,” retired police detective Daniel Shull said on the stand Thursday, describing a mix of emotions when he learned from a television news report that police had made an arrest in a case he and colleagues couldn’t solve but never forgot.
Without the benefit of DNA, Shull said, Conrad’s murder was “what we used to call a ‘who-done-it,’” without witnesses or physical evidence capable of leading police to her attacker.
According to Dwight Haverkorn, another retired police detective who testified Friday, “I honestly don’t know if we had even heard of DNA in 1976.”
The investigation they began was memorialized in a cold-case file, reopened when new leads filtered in, some more promising than others.
Each time, police “jumped on” new information, no matter how slight, said Colorado Springs police detective Jerry Schiffelbein in providing an overview of prior suspects.
Among those investigated were a man who set fire to a laundry room at the hotel a year after the killing. He was cleared after multiple interviews, Schiffelbein said.
On another occasion, a woman reported that she believed that her stepfather was the culprit based on childhood flashbacks, but her story didn’t check out. A different man became a suspect after he was caught by an officer peeping through a window at the hotel.
The leads went nowhere, however, until Springs police resubmitted the evidence for DNA testing in 2009, with the help of a grant.
Using pubic hair and other material gathered by the original detectives, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation identified a man’s DNA profile and matched it to Baillie in 2011 based on a cheek swab he was forced to provide after convictions for two rapes in Colorado.
During a 2011 interview at the Fremont County Correctional Center, from which Baillie is due to be paroled in January 2014, the inmate denied knowing Conrad or having been to the Antler’s Hotel downtown, Schiffelbein testified.
Conrad’s relatives remembered differently, however. Shown a photograph of Baillie taken in the 1970s, her son immediately identified Baillie as a man who had dated one of Conrad’s sisters.
Schiffelbein testified that he was initially skeptical of the man’s memory — until he mentioned that Baillie was interested in motorcycles and frequently mentioned the Hell’s Angels and motorcycle gang culture.
The defendant raised the same topics with Schiffelbein during their two-hour interview at the Fremont County correctional facility, he said.
Another sister corroborated the son’s account, telling police that Baillie had gone to school with her and her sisters in Colorado — potentially explaining how Baillie could be tied to the slain woman.
Judge Schutz ruled that DNA evidence was compelling enough to hold Baillie for trial despite arguments by his public defenders that there could have been a consensual relationship that would account for the material.