In 1985, police found the body of Marsi Belecz, 12, in a Spokane junkyard. She’d been raped, stabbed more than 25 times and her throat was cut.
Airing Sunday, an episode of “On the Case with Paula Zahn” on Investigation Discovery Channel will examine the case that Spokane police solved last spring, according to a Spokane Police Department news release.
“I’ve solved a lot of murders over the years,” Detective Mark Burbridge said in a trailer for the episode. “This one meant the most to me.”
Finding Belecz’s killer would have been an incredible feat before the advent of forensic genealogy because her killer might have been a stranger to her, said Captain Brad Arleth, a detective who worked on the case last year.
During the more than 350 interviews police conducted while investigating the case, Clayton Carl Giese’s name didn’t come up, although his DNA matched a vaginal swab tested 35 years after Belecz’s death, Arleth said.
Giese died in a car wreck in January 1989, a little more than three years after Belecz’s murder. To examine his DNA, detectives had his body exhumed last March.
Arleth said he’d never spoken to a TV crew for a true crime documentary series before last year, but he saw it as an opportunity to get the story to a large audience.
“Most people in Spokane might’ve forgotten. Certainly Marsi’s family never forgot, and the police didn’t forget it either,” Arleth said.
The Spokane Police Department does not have a dedicated unit for cold cases, despite being one of the largest agencies in the state, department spokesperson Julie Humphreys said.
Arleth said there are more than 100 cold cases in Spokane going back to the 1950s. He and a handful of other officers, including Sgt. Zac Storment, have “no spare time” but “make the time” to work on cases, chipping away at them over lunch and by staying an hour later.
“That has to do with our administration and the elected officials who hold the purse strings,” Arleth said.
“We have a couple of people, one sergeant and a couple detectives, and it’s really just like, ‘Oh hey, it’s Wednesday. I thought I was going to go to court, but it’s canceled so I’m going to look at this.’ ”
In the Belecz case, a Virginia lab submitted a DNA profile from the swab to a public database and produced a list of four distant relatives who might have been Marsi’s killer. A test of Giese’s body confirmed he was the killer with a random-match probability of 1 in a nonillion.
Arleth said there might be no justice served through the case because Giese died, but it still brings closure for Belecz’s sisters.
“The other satisfying part to a cold case — all of the people who worked on that when it happened, they’ve long since retired,” Arleth said. “And then people along the way that took up the matter after they left, some of those people retired. I think the satisfaction comes from basically being able to solve it on the foundation of all that work.”
The episode will air Sunday at 7 p.m. and can be streamed at discoveryplus.com.