Man charged in 1977 St. Paul murderby Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A Duluth man was charged on Tuesday with the brutal homicide of a St. Paul man more than three decades ago, after the St. Paul Police Department's cold case unit used DNA from the crime scene to locate the suspect.
The case marks the first time the one-year-old unit has cracked a case.
Martin John Shemukenas, known as Mark, was found dead in his St. Paul apartment in May 1977. He had been castrated, with his hands tied behind his back, his throat cut, and a fork stuck in his chest.
An autopsy found that Shemukenas bled to death from multiple lacerations. He was 30 years old.
"The crime scene is one that was extremely brutal," said Sgt. Anita Muldoon, the case investigator, at a press conference today.
Richard Hubert Ireland, Jr., 59, was charged with the homicide today, after investigators matched DNA from a pair of scissors found on Shemukenas' bed.
At the time of the crime, investigators took fingerprint samples from the crime scene, but were unable to find a match. Blood samples taken from the scene were stored as evidence, as DNA technology did not yet exist.
A police investigation ruled out many people linked to or acquainted with Shemukenas. No one was charged with the crime, and the evidence ended up in storage.
Five years later, Ireland attempted to sexually assault a 15-year-old boy at a St. Paul swimming pool. He was convicted of fourth-degree attempted criminal sexual conduct in connection with the incident.
Investigators linked fingerprints lifted from that incident with those found on a metal cabinet in Shemukenas' kitchen. Police interviewed Ireland about the 1977 homicide, and he denied knowing Shemukenas.
The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension obtained hair samples from Ireland, but they did not match hair taken from a knife and bottle found at the 1977 crime scene.
At the time, prosecutors found that insufficient evidence existed to charge Ireland with the killing.
The case received new attention last year, when the St. Paul Police Department used a $270,000 federal grant to open a cold case unit.
Cold case investigators reviewed fingerprint evidence from the two previous crimes, and located Ireland in Duluth and obtained a DNA sample from him. The BCA found that DNA from Ireland matched DNA from the scissors found at the crime scene.
Police went to Ireland's residence to arrest him on Sept. 18, but he had left. Police later made the arrest at a halfway house in Minneapolis where Ireland had been staying.
"He didn't ask any questions," Muldoon said. "His affect was rather flat." Ireland did not admit to the crime, she said.
Police officials notified Shemukenas' family of the arrest. "They're very pleased," Muldoon said. "They're very relieved."
Investigators continue to explore possible motives.
"There was nothing to indicate that there was a break-in or anything like that, but just that they may have known each other," Muldoon said.
Since the cold case unit opened last year, investigators have identified more than 100 other unsolved homicide cases. Investigators have prioritized several of those cases, based on the amount of evidence and number of interview subjects available.
"They're very difficult cases to make," said Senior Commander Tim Lynch at today's press conference. "They're very complicated, and they're very, very painstaking and time-consuming."
Muldoon said she expects that suspects in other unsolved cases will be charged soon.
"This is not extraneous work," she said. "There is no price on human life. Justice for these victims and their families is invaluable."
Ireland appeared in Ramsey County District Court this afternoon, and his bail was set at $500,000. Ireland's next scheduled court appearance is Oct. 6.
- All Things Considered, 09/22/2009, 5:50 p.m.