Unsolved murders, deaths in Yellowstone County

2005-01-29T23:00:00Z Unsolved murders, deaths in Yellowstone County The Billings Gazette
January 29, 2005 11:00 pm

Here's a list of unsolved murders and unexplained deaths in Yellowstone County:

• Jeannette "Charlie" Rene Atwater Age: 34 Date of death: Jan. 16, 2000 Officials found Atwater's body after the Billings Fire Department and sheriff's deputies responded to reports of a burning car in a parking lot off Bench Boulevard that serves the MetraPark Trail bike path. Crews found the car engulfed in flames. The fire destroyed the car and left a charred patch in the middle of the parking lot. In the process of dousing the fire, crews forced open the trunk and found the body. The corpse was so badly burned, officials couldn't identify its race, age or gender.

Atwater was spotted at a bar earlier in the evening, according to Yellowstone County sheriff's detective. More than 100 employees and patrons of the bar have been interviewed. Detectives said Atwater burned to death in the car.

• "John Doe" Age: 35-40 Date of death: Corpse found Nov. 23, 1999 The corpse of an unidentified white male found in an irrigation ditch two miles east of Billings near Highway 312. The man was wearing swim trunks. "The autopsy did not reveal any foul play," Sheriff's Detective Seth Weston said. "There were no bullet holes, broken limbs. He was intact."

• Miranda Fenner Age: 18 Date of death: Nov. 15, 1998 Fenner was found in a puddle of blood on the doorstep of The Movie Store at 419 Main St. in Laurel around 8:20 p.m. Nov. 15. Fenner was still alive when paramedics arrived and discovered that someone had cut her throat. A Laurel ambulance drove her to the parking lot of Laurel High School and a helicopter from Billings flew her to St. Vincent Healthcare. Fenner died about two hours later. After an autopsy was completed in Billings, Yellowstone County Attorney Dennis Paxinos said Fenner had suffered numerous other stab wounds. There was money missing from the store's cash register.

• Judith Hatten Age: 48 Date of death: March 11, 1995 Hatten was found by her boyfriend in the hallway of her home at 1030 12th Ave. in Laurel. She was bludgeoned to death. Her 3-year-old granddaughter was unharmed in a crib. Hatten had apparently been baby-sitting the girl. There was no sign of forced entry to the house. Hatten's pickup truck, which was missing when police arrived, was found later that day on West Ninth Street in Laurel. Investigators believe the killer drove the truck from the house and abandoned it.

Police never found the weapon used to kill Hatten.

• Ben Burns Age: 20 Date of death: March 10, 1986 Burns, of Forsyth, was found shot to death near Interstate 94 near the Huntley Interchange. Detectives believe he was killed by someone who was robbing him. But if that was the motive, they killed the man for less than $1 worth of change he was carrying, Yellowstone County Sheriff Chuck Maxwell said shortly after the incident.

• Marlene Mazzola Age: 42 Date of death: Sept. 21, 1980 • George Heinrich Age: 58 Date of death: Sept. 21, 1980 Mazzola and Heinrich were found bound, beaten and strangled in a house near Shepherd. The couple were on their second date when they were murdered in the master bedroom of a house on old Highway 10. They were bound at the wrists with electrical tape and beaten about the face.

• Corina Lydia Contreraz Age: 17 Date of death: Dec. 22, 1978 Her partially clothed body was found at the Pryor Creek interchange of Interstate 90. She had been beaten and strangled. She was last seen walking from a friend's house at 3 a.m.

• Marsha Helgeson Age: 21 Date of death: discovered Sept. 9, 1978 Helgeson was found beaten and stabbed to death off Alkali Creek Road.

• Ruth Lori Ballew Age: 21 Date of death: Feb. 5, 1977 Ballew was found shot to death on road leading to city dump. She had a record of prostitution arrests.

• Cliff Bernhardt Age: 24 Date of death: Nov. 6, 1973 Found bound and beaten in his new home in Billings • Linda Bernhardt Age: 24 Date of death: Nov. 6, 1973 The couple was found bound and beaten in their new home in Billings. Linda Bernhardt had also been raped. Both were bound hand and foot and strangled with a garrot.

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