The Eugene Police Department used genetic genealogy technology to identify an Oregon serial killer — nearly four decades after his murders.
In the late 1980s, a string of seemingly connected murders left police in Eugene, Oregon baffled. While it was clear the victims were female and had been sexually assaulted before dying of “brutal homicidal violence,” their killer was never found — until now.
According to the City of Eugene, renewed investigations by the Eugene Police Department (EPD) and Oregon State Police have finally identified the women’s murderer as John Charles Bolsinger. With the advent of modern DNA testing and genealogy services, investigators have pinned down the killer after nearly 40 years.
“Several persons of interest were developed and thoroughly investigated over the years and were excluded through DNA comparison,” said the EPD in a press release. “After extensive follow-up, and the analysis of additional evidence, the suspect was identified as John Charles Bolsinger.”
Fortunately for the investigators, Bolsinger had an extensive police record that allowed them to pinpoint him with precision. In 1980, he was arrested for second-degree murder in Salt Lake City, Utah, after police found 33-year-old Kaysie Sorensen dead at her home with a clock-radio cord wrapped around her neck.
In court, Bolsinger claimed that he and Sorensen had been engaging in a consensual sexual act that accidentally led to her death. He had then panicked and fled. A judge sentenced Bolsinger to five years in prison, and he was released on parole on March 7, 1986.
Not even three months later, on June 5, 1986, police responding to a welfare check discovered 62-year-old Gladys May Hensley dead in her apartment. Her apartment showed signs of forced entry, and there was evidence of sexual assault.
Just two weeks later, on June 19, 1986, police found 33-year-old Janice Marie Dickinson dead behind a car dealership. She was naked, and her body also showed signs of sexual assault.
John Charles Bolsinger’s next victim would narrowly escape with her life. On Sept. 26, 1986, a woman in Springfield, Oregon heard her dog “making strange noises in the kitchen” in the middle of the night. When she investigated, she spotted a stranger looking through her kitchen window.
According to police, “She saw the window slide open and then the suspect reached inside and removed a brace in the slider. She ran back to the living room and called 911. While on the phone, she saw the suspect walk into the living room.”
“He stood still for a moment and then approached her. She started screaming as the suspect tried to pull the phone from hand. She started striking the suspect with the phone and a flashlight. The suspect fled through the kitchen window. He left behind a down vest and paring knife.”
John Charles Bolsinger was captured by a K9 unit that night, but he feigned memory loss. He was sentenced to another five years in prison, but he was released just over a year later, on Dec. 8, 1987. Again, less than three months after his release, he killed 73-year-old Geraldine Spencer Toohey in her home on Feb. 28, 1988. While Oregon State Police released a sketch of the suspect on March 5, he was never captured alive.
“On March 23, 1988, John Bolsinger was discovered deceased at his apartment,” said the police. He was 30 years old.
The only thing authorities at the time knew was that John Charles Bolsinger was a convicted murderer, had a history of breaking and entering, and took his own life. The fact that he was responsible for the deaths of Hensley, Dickinson, and Toohey would only come to light nearly four decades later, following six years of extensive DNA and genealogy testing.
Using the same company that would aid in identifying Joseph James D’Angelo as the Golden State Killer, Parabon NanoLabs, police used genetic genealogy to narrow down their suspects to four. This technology uses a database of genetic material to locate potential family members connected to unidentified DNA. Additional evidence, including Bolsinger’s history and criminal profile, clarified him as the culprit.
In a press release, authorities state, “The Eugene Police Department and the Oregon State Police are pleased to finally bring closure to the family members of Gladys, Janice, and Geraldine, as well as our community. Both agencies remain committed to constantly evaluating unsolved cases and utilizing emerging technologies to bring closure to other families of crime victims.”
After reading about John Charles Bolsinger, learn about the victim of serial killer Robert Hansen who was identified via DNA. Then, read about Richard Ramirez and his “Night Stalker” murders.