Real Name: Gretchen Burford
Nicknames: No Known Nicknames
Location: Palo Alto, California
Date: February 26, 1988
Details: After raising three children, forty-nine-year-old Gretchen Burford decided to enroll in law school at the age of forty-one. By 1984, she had a full-time practice in Palo Alto, California. She specialized in criminal defense in juvenile law. People close to Gretchen say that she felt that her new career would be able to help the the more underprivileged minorities in society.
On Friday evening, February 26, 1988, Gretchen left her office and prepared to go home. Authorities are uncertain on her exact movements after she left the office, but according to bank records, at 6:37 pm, Gretchen deposited a check for $449 at a branch bank that was four blocks from her law office. Authorities believe that while Gretchen was at the ATM, an unknown assailant entered her unlocked car and hid in the backseat. When she got back in her vehicle, the assailant accosted her and threatened her with a knife. It is unknown what exactly happened in the next twenty minutes, but it is believed that Gretchen may have tried talking him out of the crime, telling him about how he would face prison time otherwise.
At 7:02 pm, Gretchen attempted to withdraw money from another bank machine three miles away. This transaction was aborted when she tried to withdraw more money than she was allowed. Authorities believe she may have done this to try and discourage her abductor. Two witnesses pulled up behind Gretchen's car and saw her and her assailant struggling. Gretchen also tried to open the driver door, but the assailant pulled her back in. She then drove quickly away from the bank and drove straight into a parked car. Gretchen exited her car, screaming "He stabbed me!" At the same time, two young men arrived at the scene to help her; they watched as the assailant fled the scene.
Authorities believe that Gretchen deliberately caused the accident in order to escape her assailant. Tragically, she was unsuccessful; the man stabbed her once in the chest. Her car came to rest just 150 yards from the drive-up teller machine. The two young men were able to get a good look at the assailant before he vanished. Gretchen was taken to an emergency room; tragically, she passed away shortly after.
When authorities arrived at the scene, they noticed a paisley hat in the back of the car. It is believed that this hat was left by the killer. The next day, a butcher knife with an eight inch was recovered; it was determined to be the murder weapon. The weapon was found in a driveway just a block from the murder scene. Authorities learned that the hat found at the scene was sold at just two stores in the area. However, they have yet to connect it to a suspect.
Suspects: The killer was described as 6'0" to 6'3" tall, 180-220 pounds, of athletic build, and dark-skinned; he has yet to be identified. He is believed to have left a paisley hat at the scene.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the September 12, 1990 episode.
Results: Solved. In 2005, DNA evidence found in the paisley hat linked Gretchen's murder to Tyrone Maurice Hamel, who was found serving a life sentence in Texas for robbery and rape. Investigators learned that he had been in Palo Alto at the time of the murder for a friend's funeral. Along with Gretchen, he also robbed and raped several women at knifepoint in Texas. He was arrested for those crimes sometime later in 1988.
In 2007, a fingerprint at the scene was also linked to Hamel. In January 2008, he confessed to her murder and pleaded guilty. Since Gretchen did not believe in the death penalty, Hamel was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
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- Gretchen Burford at Find a Grave