GRESHAM, OR (KPTV) - Investigators with the Gresham Police Department made a tremendous breakthrough in what they say is the city’s oldest cold case murder. 57-year-old Robert Plympton was arrested Tuesday in the killing of college student Barbara ‘Barbie’ Mae Tucker near Mt. Hood Community College. It happened 41 years ago, when Plympton was just 16.
It’s a case that’s traumatized people in the community and stumped detectives for decades. Now there is closure, an outcome Tucker’s sister, Susan Pater, said she didn’t think was still possible. Pater tells FOX 12 she received an unexpected visit from Gresham Det. Aaron Turnage Tuesday night to tell her the news.
“Just really happy that there’s some closure. I wish it could’ve happened when my folks were alive, and that would’ve been wonderful, but we have it now, so that’s really good,” said Susan Pater, alongside her husband Robert.
Pater said her sister, Barbie, was studying business at Mt. Hood Community College in 1980. She was going to go places, said Pater.
“She was amazing. She’d figure out how to do something if she didn’t know how,” said Pater.
Police said Tucker was walking to a class one evening, 41 years ago, when she was seen running from a wooded area on the west side of Mt. Hood Community College. Witnesses then also saw a man emerge from the shrubs and lead her back towards campus. Investigators said the following morning, one of Tucker’s peers found her body in the bushes. It was determined by the medical examiner that she was sexually assaulted and beaten to death.
Now, more than four decades later, detectives made a DNA profile match from the original crime scene with technology not available in the 80’s. It’s what furthered the case and led investigators to Plympton’s arrest.
“It’s a lot of leg work. I mean hundreds, if not thousands, of hours have gone into this case. There are 10,000 plus pages of discovery. There are terabytes of data that we sift through and go through to make this case possible,” said Det. Aaron Turnage, who’s led this most recent part of the investigation.
The case rocked the community so much so, Turnage said he’s been answering calls from strangers who live nearby, thanking him. Turnage said it’s the first cold case he’s solved in his career. He hopes it won’t be his last.
“There have been lots of hurdles to overcome in this case, lots of emotional hurdles, and sitting down and experiencing that with the family last night. Something I’ve never experienced in my career,” said Turnage, fighting back tears.
Plympton was arraigned in court Wednesday afternoon. He’s now a father and husband. According to court records, he has a number of felony convictions, including assault and kidnapping. But the last known conviction, according to court records, was in 1998, 23 years ago. Det. Turnage said people can turn their lives around, but that does not absolve them of their past crimes.