Jerry Allen Mark, 79, is serving a life prison sentence for murder in the deaths of his brother and sister-in-law, Les and Jorjean Mark, and their two children, Julie, 5, and Jeff, 18 months.
Prosecutors allege Jerry Mark shot and killed the family in their sleep because of a disagreement over inheritance of the family farm.
Jerry Mark has always said he is innocent of the crime, and over the years some of the evidence presented to the jury at his original trial has been debunked. The case even came close to a retrial in 2006.
Efforts to re-examine the case resumed in 2018 when the State Public Defender’s Office asked the court to review evidence as part of a U.S. Department of Justice grant to review convictions in cases that involved hair microscopy.
Then in 2021, the office sought to duplicate 8 mm film of Jerry Mark walking that was in evidence. The film had been used with testimony about his gait as it related to footprints found at the scene.
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The defense team is now reviewing chrome cupboard drawer pulls, bullets, a basement electrical panel and a note about the will found in a coat in the bedroom that investigators seized to check for fingerprints. They are also taking another look at lifts of a palm or glove print found on a stairway wall at the home and prints on doors to the master bedroom.
July 7, 1994, rural Montrose County. Aug. 9, 1993, Lakewood, Washington.
The dates and states are far removed, but they have proven inextricably linked: the first is the day hikers found a woman’s skull on Windy Point. The second is when a 45-year-old woman was last reported alive to Washington authorities. It is now known the dates involve the same person, a woman known here for almost three decades as Windy Point Jane Doe, but who now has her true identity back.
Her name was Susan Hoppes.
Cause of death: Undetermined.
Manner of death: Undetermined, but circumstances point to homicide.
Forensic genetic genealogy, which did not exist in 1994, finally linked Montrose County’s unidentified body with a petite, dark-haired Washington State woman, who reportedly left her home in the middle of one August night.
“This is a classic piece of police work,” said Montrose County Coroner Dr. Thomas Canfield, who formally confirmed the identity Wednesday, May 11, almost 28 years after Hoppes’ remains were found. “You just keep digging and digging and digging.”
After many years of work by many hands, Montrose County Sheriff’s Office investigators got their match through a DNA sample the Colorado Bureau of Investigation prepared for a commercial DNA database, where samples from Hoppes’ brother and sister had also been uploaded.
Although the process is far from simple and does not necessarily produce instant results, the match for Hoppes was made less than two years after Sheriff Gene Lillard green-lighted sending the remains for familial DNA testing.
Hoppes’ identification was confirmed April 19 and Canfield then notified her surviving…
It took 30 years for authorities to make an arrest in the strangling death of Nona Stamey Cobb, but officials said investigators with the State Bureau of Investigations and Surry County Sheriff’s Office never gave up.
“I want to send a clear message here. Hear my words,” SBI director Robert Schurmeier said at a news conference Thursday at the Surry County Sheriff’s Office. “The men and women of the SBI in partnerships with sheriff’s offices across this state and around the country will seek out justice for the cold cases that we have on our books. We will work day and night to pursue the suspects who think they may have gotten away with it 20, 30, 40 years ago.”
Warren Luther Alexander, 71, of Diamondhead, Miss., was arrested March 15 and charged with felony murder in the July 7, 1992 death of Cobb, a 29-year-old woman who was last seen alive the night before getting into a truck with a white man at a rest stop on Interstate 85 in Cleveland County. Alexander was brought back to North Carolina on March 27 and is currently in the Surry County Jail with no bond allowed. His next court date in Surry District Court is May 4.
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Vickie S. Gregory, Cobb’s sister, and two younger women who are relatives of Cobb, sat on the front row of a conference room in the sheriff’s office late Thursday morning as officials with the State Bureau of Investigation, Attorney General Josh Stein and members of the Surry County Sheriff’s Office spoke.
They said persistence, law-enforcement partnership and new DNA technology led to Alexander’s arrest. After the news conference, the three women quickly left, and SBI spokeswoman Anjanette Grube said they did not want to make a statement.
Sheriff Steve Hiatt read a lengthy list of law-enforcement agencies and officers, some of whom have since died, who worked over the past 30 years on the case.
“The fact that we’re all here today is a testament to the men and women who did not give up,” he said.
Capt. Scott Hudson of the Surry County Sheriff’s Office said a trucker found Cobb’s body off the northbound lane of CC Camp Road by a ramp onto I-77. Her body was found at 6:15 a.m. July 7, 1992. It would take about three weeks before investigators definitively identified her as Nona Stamey Cobb.
The Surry County Sheriff’s Office started investigating, with the assistance of the SBI, and located a woman who told detectives that she saw Cobb on the night of July 6, 1992, getting into a black Peterbilt truck with a white man. Hudson said the woman gave a description of the driver.
Hudson said DNA evidence was taken from Cobb’s body and other items, including clothing, and that evidence was submitted to the State Crime Lab for analysis. The Surry County Sheriff’s Office did not have a suspect until 1995, when an Asheboro trucker named Sean Patrick Goble was questioned about Cobb’s death. Goble denied killing Cobb, and in July 1995, Surry County investigators ruled Goble out as a suspect when DNA tests done on semen from Cobb’s body did not match Goble.
Goble was eventually charged and convicted of killing three other women, including a Florida woman whose body was found in Guilford County in 1995. He is serving two life sentences, plus 14 years, in prison, according to news reports.
Then in April 2021, special agents with the SBI’s Cold Case Investigation Unit and Surry County sheriff’s detectives re-examined evidence, including DNA, in Cobb’s murder. They worked with Colleen Fitzpatrick, founder of Identifinders International LLC, and were able to identify Alexander as a possible suspect. The company uses forensic geneology, which takes genetic information from direct-to-consumer companies to help identify suspects in criminal cold cases.
“I will tell you that forensic genealogy is a game changer,” Schurmeier said. “It’s incredible how it helps us connect the dots with people around the country, family members around the country, to identify the suspects who think they’ve gotten away with it.”
Stein said that seven analysts from the State Crime Lab analyzed more than 34 items of DNA evidence over a 10-year period to help break the case. He spoke directly to Gregory and the rest of Nona Cobb’s family.
“It isn’t finished but what we hope is that this impressive step taken by the State Bureau of Investigation and the Surry County Sheriff’s Office brings you one step closer to having some sense of closure and a sense of justice for what happened to Nona,” he said.
Surry County investigators and the SBI are looking into whether Alexander might be connected to other unsolved homicides. Hudson asked that anyone who has information or knows of similar killings contact the SBI’s Hickory office at 828-294-2266 or the Surry County Sheriff’s Office at 336-401-8900.
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