On March 9, 1979, 18-year-old Janie Landers slipped quietly away from the Fairview Training Center in Salem, Oregon. Fairview was a residential facility for those with developmental disabilities and mental health problems.
On that early March afternoon, “Police received a call of what they called a ‘walk away,'” Steve Hinkle, a detective with the Oregon State Police tells A&E True Crime. This time, the walk away was Janie Landers. She had a prior history of running away, according to her sister, Joyce Caldwell.
However, the previous times Janie had run away, she had always come back, says Caldwell. This time, the hours stretched on with no signs of Janie, who, according to the Marion County District Attorney’s office, was just 5-foot-1, 105 pounds and had the developmental age of about an eight-year-old.
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When police responded to Fairview, they interviewed everyone who had interacted with Janie that day. One of their most essential interviews was with Bill Graf, the last person to see Janie on the institution’s grounds.
Graf told investigators that, around 2 p.m., Janie stomped out of his classroom. Graf told A&E True Crime that Janie was upset because he’d informed her that insurance changes meant he could no longer work with her one-on-one. Graf assumed Janie was headed for the on-campus group home where she lived with several other roommates. But her roommates told the police that she never arrived.
In the hours after Janie walked away from Fairview, an employee came forward with eyewitness intel. Leona Wase staffed the late afternoon shift at Fairview and was approaching the campus a little after 2 p.m. She saw a young woman she recognized as a Fairview resident talking to a man standing by a gold car. The man was standing close to the resident, who was later identified as Janie, and Wase felt like something was off. But Fairview had strict rules about staff members interacting with residents off-campus, and Janie was technically off-campus. Wase continued her drive to work.
When Wase heard Janie was missing, her brain snapped together the two pieces of info—what she’d witnessed during her commute and the AWOL resident. She described the man she saw to police.
Coincidentally, the description—a middle-aged man with shaggy brown hair and a bit of a pot belly—matched Bill Graf, the last known person to see Janie alive.
With Wase’s witness intel, “we have more of a possibility of an abduction,” says Hinkle. That news, however, never made it to Janie’s family. Caldwell says that, for days after her disappearance, her parents believed that Janie was a runaway.
On March 14, 1979, five days after Wase saw Janie outside Fairview’s grounds, a rural landowner reported stumbling across a body. Police found the corpse of a young woman in deep brush. She was lying face down, and when they rolled her over, it was clear she’d suffered multiple stab wounds.
It didn’t take long for investigators to determine that this was the missing girl from Fairview Training Center. It was clear Janie wasn’t a runaway—she was a homicide victim.
Investigators combed the area where Janie was found and decided the woods were just a dumpsite for her body. Janie was likely killed elsewhere. As a result, there was little evidence at the scene, says Hinkle. But detectives did find a few clues.
Within Janie’s fist were a few hairs, likely from trying to fight off her attacker. They also noticed she was only wearing one earring. Her autopsy revealed two crucial facts. First: although Janie was stabbed, her death was actually caused by a blow to the head. Second: Janie wasn’t sexually assaulted before her death. There was no sperm to store in a rape kit for later DNA testing.
Initially, Hinkle told A&E True Crime that detectives suspected Bill Graf, Janie’s counselor, had something to do with her death. The two had a close relationship, and police theorize that Graf could have taken advantage of that relationship to lure Janie away from Fairview.
Graf agreed to take a polygraph. He passed with ease, squashing law enforcement’s hopes of making this an open-and-shut investigation, says Hinkle.
Interviews with friends and Fairview staff revealed Janie had two enemies, says Hinkle. In the months before Janie’s death, the tension between Janie, her roommate Cheryl and her roommate’s boyfriend, Ray, had come to a head.
A few months before Janie went missing, Janie had been so enraged at Cheryl that she poured hot chili over Cheryl, causing significant burns. After the chili incident, Cheryl’s boyfriend, Ray, made statements about his dislike of Janie, even saying that he wanted to harm her, says Hinkle.
However, despite digging into Ray’s past and doing thorough interviews with Ray and Cheryl, “we were never able to confirm or deny his involvement,” says Hinkle. Ray, meanwhile, maintained his innocence.
By 1981, viable leads on who killed Janie Landers had evaporated. Newer, more solvable homicides pushed Janie’s file farther and farther back on the shelf, says Hinkle. Two years after Janie disappeared, her case was officially cold.
Ten years after Janie’s murder, Salem police got a tip about Ray, Janie’s old nemesis. When detectives first interviewed Ray and Cheryl, the duo were romantically involved. But they had since broken up, and Cheryl provided details she didn’t previously divulge. One is that Cheryl remembered seeing one of Janie’s earrings in Ray’s truck.
“That was a huge piece of information because we knew that Janie was missing the earring,” says Hinkle.
Detectives worked to track down Ray, hoping to search his truck. But the truck was long gone. Ray maintained his innocence, and police had no physical evidence to tie him to the crime. Janie’s case went cold again.
In 2015, Joyce Caldwell called the Oregon State Police to press them to reopen her sister’s case. She’d heard about several long-cold cases being closed by advances in DNA technology. But Janie wasn’t sexually assaulted, which means DNA would be harder to come by. Still, Detective Hinkle agreed to look at Janie’s file.
When he reviewed the crime scene photos, a detail caught Hinkle’s eye: the stab wounds appeared to be from a knife without a hilt—the part of the handle that keeps your hand from slipping forward and onto the knife’s sharp edge. Hinkle knew that, on a knife without a hilt, stabbing forcefully without cutting yourself is tricky. He sent Janie’s shirt off for DNA testing. As Hinkle suspected, Janie’s attacker cut himself during the struggle and left a trail of blood behind.
A hit in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) system gave Hinkle a name: Gerald Dunlap. It wasn’t a name on the original investigation list.
In 1961, a judge had sentenced Dunlap to 99 years in Tennessee prison for rape. He only served 12. Paroled in 1973, Dunlap made his way to Oregon and got a job at Fairview working in the laundry room. No one did a background check before he was hired.
Hinkle used payroll records to show Dunlap was working at Fairview in April of 1979. He was 43 at the time. When Hinkle showed Wase a photo lineup using an old photo of Dunlap, more than three decades later, she correctly identified him as the man talking to Janie the day she disappeared.
Dunlap died in prison in 2002. He was serving a sentence for sexually abusing a minor family member. Detectives believe the 5’9″, 190-pound Dunlap lured Janie into his car and then tried to sexually assault her. Despite her small size, Janie fought back.
Today, Caldwell says she is glad she has answers, but she can’t help but feel Janie was failed by the very systems meant to protect her. The justice system allowed Dunlap to be paroled from a 99-year sentence, and Fairview then hired him, putting a dangerous criminal in the midst of a vulnerable population.
However, while Caldwell never faced her sister’s murderer in court, she says she’s relieved Janie’s case was solved and that Dunlap died in prison, “where he belonged.”