US NewsDecades-Long Mystery Solved: The 1980 Cold Case Murder of Barbara Mae Tucker

Decades-Long Mystery Solved: The 1980 Cold Case Murder of Barbara Mae Tucker

Barbara Mae Tucker
Barbara Mae Tucker
Images source: © X | Matthew Wygant
11:17 AM EDT, March 19, 2024

In a stunning resolution to a case that has haunted the Gresham community for over four decades, a Multnomah County Circuit Court has delivered justice for Barbara Mae Tucker, a 19-year-old college student whose life was brutally cut short in 1980. Robert Plympton, 60, has been found guilty of first-degree murder, thanks to groundbreaking DNA genealogy technology and a discarded piece of chewing gum.

Tucker, a student at Mt. Hood Community College, vanished on January 15, 1980, with her body discovered the following day in a wooded area near the campus. Despite extensive investigations, the perpetrator remained a mystery, leaving the case cold and her family and friends without closure.

The breakthrough came when advances in DNA technology provided investigators with the tools to revisit unsolved cases. In 2000, DNA swabs taken during Tucker's autopsy were analyzed, laying the groundwork for future breakthroughs. It wasn't until 2021, however, a genealogist from Parabon Nanolabs identified Plympton as a potential suspect.

Gresham Police Department detectives initiated surveillance on Plympton, who was residing in Troutdale, and eventually observed him discard chewing gum. This seemingly innocuous act proved pivotal; the gum's DNA matched the profile from Tucker's case, leading to Plympton's arrest on June 8, 2021.

Despite Plympton's plea of not guilty and assertions of innocence, the evidence presented during the bench trial, which ran from February 26 to March 15, was compelling. Judge Amy Baggio convicted Plympton, highlighting the lack of evidence to suggest Tucker and Plympton had known each other before the murder. While Plympton was found guilty of murder, charges of rape or sexual abuse were not upheld due to the inability to prove such acts occurred while Tucker was alive conclusively.

The conviction brings a long-overdue sense of justice and perhaps peace to Tucker's family, who have waited over forty years for answers. Tucker's sister, Susan Pater, expressed mixed emotions upon learning of Plympton's arrest, lamenting that their parents were not alive to see the case resolved. Detective Aaron Turnage, who made a promise to solve the case, shared in the family's moment of bittersweet closure.

As Plympton awaits his sentencing on June 21, the resolution of Barbara Mae Tucker's murder underscores the profound impact of DNA technology in solving cold cases. It also highlights the relentless pursuit of justice by law enforcement and the indomitable spirit of families seeking answers for their loved ones, even against the longest of odds.

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