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.
Clifford And Linda Bernhardt
In 1973 Clifford and Linda Bernhardt were living the American dream. Clifford was a Vietnam veteran who worked as a concrete worker for Quality Concrete Co. in Billings, Montana. At 210 pounds and standing 5 foot 10, he was considered very broad-shouldered and stout. Linda worked for the Ryan Grocery Co. Wholesale warehouse. Described as friendly and outgoing, she had a 5 foot 3, 103 pound frame that regularly garnered the attention of men. Both were well known and well liked in the community. In October the 24 year old couple built a house at 1116 Dorothy Lane, within walking distance of her parent’s house.
The House On Dorothy Lane
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 was 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.
In another bedroom, Linda’s body was found, bound hand and foot 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.
A Trio Of Suspects
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. 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.
Case 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 additional information regarding the murders of the Bernhardts is urged to contact the Yellowstone County Sheriff or (406) 869-3530, or Crime Stoppers at (406) 254-6660.
09 Nov 1973 - Killings Puzzle Police
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