SOLVED The Bernhardts: 45 Year Old Montana Double Homicide Remains Unsolved Despite $100,000 Reward

solved double cold case murder clifford linda bernhardt billings montana

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UPDATE: In March, 2019, DNA evidence was used to determine that Cecil Stan Caldwell, a prior co-worker to Linda Bernhardt, was responsible for the murders of Linda and her husband Clifford. Caldwell died in 2003 at the age of 59 and the case is now considered closed by the Yellowstone County Cold Case Division.

In 1973 Clifford and Linda Bernhardt were just beginning their version of the American dream. Clifford was a Vietnam veteran who worked as a concrete worker for Quality Concrete Co. in Billings, Montana. He was broad shouldered and stout, standing 5’10” and weighing around 210 pounds. His young wife Linda worked for the Ryan Grocery Co. Wholesale warehouse, also in Billings. Described as friendly and outgoing, she had a 5 foot 3, 103 pound frame and was well known and liked in the community. In October of 1973 the pair, who were both 24 years old, built a house at 1116 Dorothy Lane, within walking distance of Linda’s parents’ house. Prior to returning to Billings the couple had lived in both Georgia and Washington state.

November 6, 1973

On the afternoon of November 6th , Clifford Bernhardt called his mother to let her know that they would not be attending a family dinner that evening. It would be the last time they ever spoke. The next morning after they failed to appear at an office cleaning job they shared, Linda’s mother, June Reich, made the short walk to their house. She found the door locked, and broke in the back door, never imagining the horror that awaited her.

Despite the fact that the temperature the night before was only 6 degrees, the house was ice cold. Clifford Bernhardt was found lying on the face down on floor in the master bedroom. Evidence suggests that he was struck over the head by someone standing behind him, striking his forehead on either a piece of furniture or the floor during the fall. He appeared to have been bound hand and foot, then garroted with strips of leather thong, or cord, and strangled to death. Clifford was very stout, and investigators concluded that the killer would have needed something, possibly a pair of pliers, to overcome him if he had been conscious.

A Bowl Of Ice

In another bedroom Linda’s body was found, also face down and apparently bound hand and foot at some point as her husband had been. It is unknown where Mrs. Bernhardt was while her husband was being killed, or how the killer managed to separate the pair that night. Her blouse and other clothing had been torn from her body, and she had been brutally sexually assaulted. A bowl of ice cubes was found next to her body, still frozen, and she had been strangled using a leather cord that was wrapped around her neck several times. Earlier news accounts state that a leather cord was used, however more recent articles suggest the material used to strangle the Bernhardts was unknown.

The killer left the windows open in both death chambers and turned the house’s thermostat as far down as it would go, presumably to throw authorities off on the time of death. He found a green suitcase that belonged to the Bernhardt’s, filled it with all of Linda’s underwear (including those she was wearing) and several pairs of her shoes. Then he untied his victims and left, taking the leather cord and locking the door behind him. Dishes left on the kitchen table suggest that the killer was someone known to both Clifford and Linda, and that he had shared their last meal of hamburger casserole before committing the crimes. Linda’s mother did the dishes while waiting for police to arrive, presumably to keep her mind off the tragedy she had just discovered.

DNA Evidence

Authorities believe the killer kept Linda’s undergarments as a trophy, and that he could potentially kill again. Despite interrogating nearly everyone who knew the couple, police were never able to nail down a solid suspect. Current statements from police state that there was never a viable suspect in the case, however in 1988 former Billings Police Officer Tom O’Brien and former Sheriff’s Detective Rickard Ross stated they believed the killer was one of three people out of those they had interviewed. DNA was extracted from Linda’s clothing in 2004, however no match has been found in any database to date. In 2013, an anonymous donor offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer(s) of Clifford and Linda Bernhardt, in addition to the $1,000 reward offered by Crime Stoppers.

Missing Person Agency Contacts

Family and friends of Clifford and Linda Bernhardt are asked to contact us with any additional comments, facts or corrections they would like to contribute. Anyone with information regarding the 

Those with additional public information or contacts related to this article please contact us. Persons with information regarding the murders of the Bernhardts is urged to contact the Yellowstone County Sheriff at coldcaseunit@co.yellowstone.mt.gov or (406) 869-3530; Crime Stoppers at (406) 254-6660 or your local law enforcement agency.

cold case murder clifford linda bernhardt billings montana

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