Kansas City, Mo. – Modern DNA technology was unheard of in the 1970s as police in two Missouri cities struggled to find and stop a man who was attacking women. KCUR news has learned it was a mainstay of crime detection that led investigators in one town to help counterparts in the other. The common denominator is the man now charged in 1980s attacks around Kansas City's Waldo District.
Bernard Jackson stands charged in Kansas City with four rapes committed in 1983 and 1984. They are accusations, not convictions.
From the past, he was convicted twice and went to prison for rape and attempted rape. One of the reasons he was convicted then, was a connection made by detectives on the St. Joseph Police Department.
Commander of Detectives Jim Connors goes back to the time of two attacks in his city 1976 and 77 when Bernard Jackson was a teenager. As Connors put it, " We developed a suspect and the suspect turned out to be an individual that we had arrested a year or two earlier on an AWOL charge. Detectives were following up on that but they really didn't have enough information other than the hunch that they had this suspect."
And then detectives learned of curiously similar crimes fifty miles south of St. Joe. Connors said they were reading in the paper about Kansas City having a series of rapes going on in which the perpetrator used a pillowcase over the victims, and the cases sounded very similar.
Connors says those detectives in the 1970s got together. They pooled information and evidence to make a whole case out of fragments here and there.
"Our detectives who had their hunch got in touch with Kansas City Police Department and said, 'do you have any suspects?' and they said no. Our detectives asked 'do you have any evidence from the crime scenes?' because we don't. We have had a similar situation. And they indicated they did have some evidence and they did have some fingerprints, some partial fingerprints," Connors said.
He relates that St. Joe detectives had a fingerprint card taken from Bernard Jackson in 1975 when he was arrested for going AWOL from the military. Not very glamorous in the world of today's crime detection arsenal of science, but it worked back then, he said, "and it was compared by the old technique of actually looking at the fingerprint card and the fingerprints at the scene and they were matched up. And that's where the suspect became Bernard Jackson."
Prosecutors in Jackson County made a case against Bernard Jackson. He served 6 of 15 years on a sentence for rape in 1977. He was back in prison in 1985 serving 24 years for attempted rape. There were unsolved attacks on women one and two years before that conviction. And Bernard Jackson is now waiting for trial on those four crimes.
And what about the unsolved crimes from St. Joseph nearly 35 years ago? Connors is going to see what evidence, if any, might lend itself to modern DNA analysis.
"There has been a lot happen since this occurred back in the mid 70s, so I don't know what evidence exists and, we haven't had a chance to go pull and see if any evidence does exist ."
Nonetheless, some of the mystery has ebbed away from an early solution to serial crimes that worried the community and have a way of reaching the surface long years after.