A composite sketch released last year of Mary Lynne Vialpando's killer, cobbled together from DNA he left on her body 30 years ago, was supposed to be the lightning rod needed to solve her cold case.
The sketch depicted how the killer might have looked at age 25 - white, with striking blue eyes and short blond hair. Surely someone would recognize him, the family thought.
Then, days later, police in Texas released a composite sketch of a culprit in a 2016 killing that looked eerily similar, except for the hairstyle and a few more freckles. Coral Vialpando, Mary Lynne's daughter, denounced the process as "a scam."
"I didn't have a lot of faith in it after that," Vialpando said. "It's been pretty frustrating. We're always hoping something will come up, but it never does."
So on the 30th anniversary of Mary Lynne's death, her family is circling back to old-fashioned methods to lay the mystery to rest. They're pleading for anyone who knows something to come forward.
"If one person knows something and another person knows a little something else ... " Vialpando said, trailing off. "They may think this tiny little detail doesn't mean anything, but it could help ... My mom isn't resting easy."
Mary Lynne was a bright, athletic 24-year-old mother when her life was brought to a brutal end June 5, 1988, family members say.
She was raped, stabbed and beaten to death, her body left in an alley off West Colorado Avenue near 26th Street.
Just hours before, she had cheerily attended a wedding in Pueblo with her family.
Returning from the festivities about 2 a.m., though, something sent Mary Lynne running from her house on West Kiowa Street. Some witnesses said they saw her arguing with her husband about inviting friends back to the house without giving her a chance to clean.
Witnesses described seeing her walk through Roger's Bar, at 2520 W. Colorado Ave., directly into the alley. Vialpando said her mother likely was stepping out for a smoke. Mary Lynne's older sister, Cynthia Renkel, assumes she was going home for the night.
Either way, Mary Lynne would not have thought twice about heading out into the night, alone or otherwise.
"She was raised on the west side, and we all felt very safe there," Renkel said. "She really didn't have the type of fear she should have had."
People living near the alley told police they heard a woman scream that night, but no one called it in. Nighttime screams in a bar district weren't uncommon.
When interviews with witnesses from the bar failed to point to a suspect, everyone turned their hopes to DNA samples from the killer's semen.
Technology was still too new to provide the composite profile it can today. But Vialpando was convinced the man's DNA was sitting in some other law enforcement database, waiting to be matched.
"A person that can kill somebody like that probably did a crime before," Vialpando said. "You don't just start out murdering people."
After 30 years of no matches, she said, her hope is fading. The killer might already be dead, or police would have matched his DNA by now, she said.
"I'm just trying to make sense why the case has gone on so long."
Even if answers come, Vialpando isn't convinced it will bring the closure she seeks.
She was only 4 when her mother was slain, but she remembers her as outdoorsy and beautiful. Pictures of them together show Mary Lynne as a happy and loving mother, something Vialpando said someone robbed from her.
As a teenager, Vialpando said, her mother's death made her bitter and angry. Now, as a mother of four, she tries not to think about it.
"I've learned to numb myself to this situation, try not to think about it so I don't feel about it," Vialpando said. "But there's always hope."
Contact Kaitlin Durbin: 636-0362
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