An anonymous donor is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in a grisly 1973 double homicide in the Heights that has baffled investigators for decades.
Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder announced the reward Wednesday afternoon in a press conference. Crimestoppers also is offering an additional $1,000 reward in the case.
A family member found Linda and Clifford Bernhardt, both 24, dead in their home at 1116 Dorothy Lane early Nov. 7, 1973.
They had been strangled. Linda had been raped. The house showed no signs of forced entry, but the bedroom windows were open, according to investigators.
There didn’t appear to have been a struggle leading up to the murders — and a table was set with a casserole dinner, and reportedly dishes for three people.
The double murder is the oldest cold case in Yellowstone County.
“The case is progressing,” Linder said, but he declined to elaborate about the investigation. And he would not say if there are any suspects.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Cold Case Unit of the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office at 869-3530. Tips can be given anonymously.
Clifford’s sister and brother-in-law, Shirley and Rick Schaff, declined to comment Wednesday.
June Reich, Linda’s mother, found the couple’s bodies in their home early on Nov. 7.
Clifford was face down in a pool of blood in the master bedroom. He had been hit on the back of the head.
Linda was face down in another bedroom. Her clothes had been ripped off and she had been sexually assaulted.
There are several bizarre details about the case:
The killer or killers had turned down the heat in the house and opened windows. Detectives thought this may have been done to alter the victims’ body temperatures, making it harder to determine when they were killed.
The temperature on that snowy night dropped to 6 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
The house was cold enough that ice cubes in a bowl by Linda’s naked body didn’t melt. Investigators have said the ice may have been used during sex assaults against the woman.
The couple’s hands and feet showed signs of having been bound with some kind of cord, but whatever they had been bound with was never found.
The house also didn’t appear to have been broken into.
Clifford, a 210-pound Vietnam War veteran, was a stronger-than-average man and owned guns.
The couple was also reportedly universally liked.
Clifford’s boss at the time, William Leslie, said, “He was darn strong and a hard worker.” Linda’s boss, Kenneth Newman, said she was “one-in-a-million, very capable and liked by all.”
Items missing from the house included a large, green suitcase, all of Linda’s underwear and some of her shoes, according to earlier reports.
The lack of evidence and the way the crime scene was prepared prompted some of the victims’ family members to speculate that the killer may have been a law enforcement officer.
Then in 2005, a sheriff’s detective said that DNA evidence had been recovered from some of Linda’s clothing.
Linder said Wednesday that advances in forensic technology sometimes allow investigators to analyze DNA evidence collected at crime scenes in cold cases.
“The investigators working the case have made progress,” he said. “We’re hoping that this offer, this reward will bring people forward that have information.”