Sunday, November 21, 1999

DNA indicates female assailant in murder case




BY JANE PRENDERGAST
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — A tiny “X” on an FBI report is sending a local murder investigator looking for something he didn't expect — a female killer.

        DNA analysis of blood found under Doris Bertsch's fingernails leads detectives to believe that before she was killed, she struggled with somebody with only X chromosomes. Because men have Y chromosomes, too, the analysis ruled out a man.

        “It brings up a whole new, unfortunately, suspect category for us,” said Covington Police Detective Jim Coots, who recently took over the 2-year-old case.

        Mrs. Bertsch, 70, a seamstress for the Cincinnati Opera, was found dead in her Kenton Hills home on Nov. 25, 1997. With no witnesses and the new but inconclusive evidence, investigators still are left to develop only what they think is the most plausible scenario.

        That is: Mrs. Bertsch came home shortly after noon that day from shopping with her daughter, Denise. A little before 2 p.m., the daughter called her mother at home several times. The phone stayed busy.

        Mrs. Bertsch was found about 9 p.m. after an accountant with whom she had an appointment showed up at her house. He could hear the television on inside, but Mrs. Bertsch didn't answer. He called police. Officers found the basement sliding door ajar. Mrs. Bertsch was dead at the top of the steps.

        One phone line was cut; the other phones were off their hooks. Knowing when the daughter tried to call, Detective Coots thinks Mrs. Bertsch died between about 12:30 and 2 p.m.

        Because she was baking at the time — bread dough was found rising on the counter when police arrived — investigators figure her hands were probably very clean. That makes the blood under her fingernails indicative of a struggle with an attacker, Detective Coots said.

        “It's a tough one,” he said, “but there are still some things that can be done.”

        Investigators at one time suspected convicted killer Fred Furnish of Mrs. Bertsch's death. He arose as a suspect about six months after the killing when he was arrested for killing a Crestview Hills woman. The victims were close in age, the houses are very similar, the break-ins took place in daylight — those things led police to suspect him.

        He remains a suspect, Detective Coots said, but not because they have any conclusive evidence that makes him one. They are considering the possibility that maybe a male attacker had female help.

        Mr. Furnish sits on death row for the June 1998 killing of Jean William son.

        Fingerprints taken from Mrs. Bertsch's house were run through a nationwide computer system, but no matches turned up. Some partial prints taken were not good enough to go into the system, but detectives are keeping those to compare with the suspect they hope to find.

        The other problem with prints is Mrs. Bertsch's active circle of friends. So many people were in and out of her house so frequently, Detective Coots said, that checking all the prints against theirs is almost impossible.

        He plans to possibly interview the neighbors again, asking more questions about anything they might remember from that day two years ago. He hopes mentioning that a woman might be involved might jog some body's memory about a woman seen in the neighborhood around the time of Mrs. Bertsch's death.

        The DNA profile will be checked with any on file in other states — a state-by-state process still done by hand that takes months. He's also checking probation and parole lists of female burglars.

        “This is not going away, I promise you that,” Detective Coots said. “There's too many people in this department who care about this case.”

        Anyone with information about the killing is asked to call Detective Coots at 292-2206 or CrimeStoppers at 352-3040. The $10,000 reward established by Mrs. Bertsch's friends remains available.

       



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