Cold case murder suspect enters not guilty plea in Reno court
A 73-year-old Arizona man was linked to a 1979 homicide thanks to DNA evidence collected in 2007 by Nevada County law enforcement after his arrest in a kidnapping case.
That information came to light in court filings before Charles Gary Sullivan was arraigned Tuesday at the Washoe County Courthouse in Reno on one count of murder.
Sullivan pleaded not guilty in the death of Julia Woodward, 21, whose body was found March 25, 1979, in a remote area about 15 miles north of Reno. Woodward’s eyes had been sealed shut with Band-Aids, her legs were zip-tied and a cloth had been used as a gag, news reports stated.
Sullivan’s Nevada County victim testified in 2008 that he zip-tied and handcuffed her at gunpoint, but she managed to escape by cutting her ties with a pocket knife. Sullivan was convicted in that case of false imprisonment and making criminal threats, and sentenced to three years and eight months in state prison.
Sullivan’s recent arrest stemmed from an investigation launched in 2015 by Washoe County Sheriff’s Detective Rick Bjelke after he was named to a newly formed cold case unit. Bjelke asked for additional forensic analysis of evidence taken from the scene where Woodward was found. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, DNA evidence local police pulled from Sullivan during the investigation of the 2007 Nevada County kidnapping case was used to link him to semen found on Woodward’s jeans.
In August, the Office of the Nevada Attorney General obtained a grand jury indictment against Sullivan, leading to his arrest. Sullivan was extradited to Nevada on Friday.
According to court documents reviewed by the Review-Journal, authorities believe Sullivan may have also killed two other women in the Reno/Tahoe area in the late 1970s: 17-year-old Jeannie Smith and 23-year-old Linda Taylor. Sullivan has not been charged in those cases, and Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford told the Review-Journal his office is focusing on the Woodward case.
“All evidence points to [Sullivan] being a serial killer,” lawyers for the Attorney General’s Office wrote in a Nov. 7 motion.
Eight months after Woodward’s body was discovered, the skeletal remains of Smith were found barely a mile away in a shallow grave. The zipper of Smith’s jeans had been “forcibly opened,” her underwear and ID were missing, and she was killed by blunt force trauma to the head, court records state. Police believe medical tape found in Smith’s hair was used to blindfold her.
Taylor had been reported missing on March 9, 1979, by her roommate. A tip led investigators to Sullivan, who eventually admitted that he had gone on a date with Taylor but denied having any knowledge of how she disappeared.
Sullivan was remanded to Washoe County Jail pending his next appearance in court Jan. 30. A motion to set a trial date is scheduled to be heard then, according to court records.
The Nevada investigation remains ongoing. In a press release, authorities stated Sullivan is believed to have lived a transitory lifestyle and asked that anyone with information contact Bjelke at 775-328-3689.
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.
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