Man convicted in 2007 Nevada County kidnap case arrested in 40-year-old murder |

Man convicted in 2007 Nevada County kidnap case arrested in 40-year-old murder

A 73-year-old Arizona man made national news over the weekend after his booking on murder charges in connection with a 40-year-old cold case.

But that same man, Charles Gary Sullivan, also dominated Nevada County headlines back in 2007 and 2008.

Sullivan was arrested near Bowman Lake in mid-September 2007 and went to trial the following January in Nevada County Superior Court in a kidnapping case with chilling similarities to the 1979 murder for which he now is facing charges.

In both cases, the victim’s legs were bound with plastic zip-ties. Julia Woodward, the 1979 victim, was then bludgeoned to death with a rock; the Nevada County victim managed to escape, cutting her ties with a pocket knife.

“I also fear that this was not his first time committing this kind of crime, the only difference being I got away and he was caught.”— 2007 Nevada County kidnapping victim of Charles Gary Sullivan

Cold case detective linked Sullivan to 1979 homicide

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Sullivan’s arrest by Washoe County Sheriff’s deputies at his northern Arizona home is largely due to cold case detective Rick Bjelke, a press release stated.

The body of a 21-year-old woman eventually identified as Julia Woodward was found on March 25, 1979 in a remote area approximately 15 miles north of Reno, the release stated. 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.

Woodward had last been seen in California on Feb. 1, 1979, en route from the San Francisco airport to seek employment in the South Lake Tahoe area.

In 2015, Bjelke reviewed evidence in the case after he was named to the newly formed cold case unit. Bjelke asked for additional forensic analysis of evidence taken from the scene, and worked with the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Forensic Services to examine biological evidence that identified Sullivan as a possible suspect in the case.

In August of this year, the Office of the Nevada Attorney General obtained a Grand Jury indictment against Sullivan, leading to his arrest. Sullivan was extradited to Washoe County on Friday and was set to be arraigned in court Tuesday.

ABC 15, a television news station in Phoenix, broke the story on Friday.

The TV station reported Sullivan is also the target of multiple homicide investigations involving young women.

“I’m keeping all my options open,” Bjelke said Monday of his investigation, but declined to comment further.

One possible victim is Jeannie Smith, whose remains were located in a shallow grave a mile from Woodward’s body in November 1979. Smith, 17, died as a result of blunt force trauma, and had last been seen on Oct. 28, 1978, at the Circus Circus Hotel in Reno.

Sullivan faced kidnap charges in Nevada County

Sullivan was arrested in Nevada County on Sept. 15, 2007, and subsequently was charged with kidnapping with a firearm, kidnap with the intent to commit forcible rape with a firearm and criminal threats with a firearm.

The victim testified at trial that Sullivan picked her up as she was hitchhiking on Highway 20 near the intersection with Interstate 80.

Sullivan agreed to take her as far as Nevada City, then offered to show her a vein of turquoise near Bowman Lake. He parked and they hiked down a path before she stopped to tie her shoe. Sullivan came up from behind, grabbed her shoulder, and pointed a handgun at her head, she testified.

Sullivan then made her lie on the ground, handcuffed her and zip-tied her wrists and ankles. Sullivan told her not to look at him and told her “the only thing that’s going to be involved is sex. We’re just going to be out here for a few days having fun.”

Sullivan then left, possibly to retrieve a blanket from his van. The victim was able to cut through the zip ties on her ankles and fled, flagging down two men driving by on an ATV.

The men testified the woman was “very frantic, very scared,” had zip-ties and handcuffs on her wrists, and was shoeless. She said a man had a gun and was “trying to kill” her.

Sullivan, however, claimed at trial the handcuffs belonged to the woman and she initiated the encounter. The jury found Sullivan not guilty of kidnapping, instead convicting him of false imprisonment and making criminal threats.

Sullivan was sentenced to three years and eight months in state prison, the maximum possible. At the sentencing, Judge Robert Tamietti noted, “The jury didn’t buy your story and I didn’t buy it,” calling Sullivan “malignant” and “despicable.”

In a written statement, the victim told the court, “Often I am unable to close my eyes and rest without my mind spinning into reliving the trauma of this experience.”

And — presciently — she stated she did not think she was Sullivan’s first victim.

“I also fear that this was not his first time committing this kind of crime,” she wrote, “the only difference being I got away and he was caught.”

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email or call 530-477-4236.

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