by Mike Dunphy
Kidnapped from her sister’s home in the middle of the night of June 22, 1980, in Antioch, California, 14-year-old Suzie Bombardier was found raped and murdered five days later, when a fisherman pulled her body from the San Joaquin River.
Until this month, the case remained unsolved and the family—and community—deprived of justice. That is until Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons, a student pursuing a master of fine arts degree in writing and publishing at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, began investigating the cold case, after coming across Bombardier’s headstone while visiting her grandparents’ graves in Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Lafayette, California. Intrigued, she began writing about the case in her blog, and later, in Salon and other national publications.
The increased spotlight helped reopen the case, and with the help of the latest DNA technology, the culprit and registered sex offender, 63-year-old Mitchell Lynn Bacom, was finally indentified by Detectives Gregory Glod and Ron Rackley and arrested Monday, Dec 11.
Thrust into the spotlight for her work in keeping the case alive, Gibbons expresses gratitude and appreciation for the motivation and confidence to pursue the story given to her by her experiences at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
“I didn’t consider myself a journalist,” she explained, “I write about pop culture; I write about Muppets and the fact I can’t get a good purse, but the constant feedback and ‘stop bad-mouthing yourself; stop doubting yourself; write this story; you can do this,’ has helped me in ways you will never know.”
But, she emphasizes, the ultimate discovery of the killer was not because of her. “The reason why it got uncovered was good police work, good detective work. And thank God for DNA.” That said, the attention she drew to the story helped reinvigorate the investigation. She considers it important to keep all cold cases in the public eye.
“In order for a cold case to be solved,” Gibbons said, “you have to keep the person in the spotlight, on the Internet with pictures and information about them, so it makes them more real and not just a faded picture. If it’s just a picture, you think, ‘Oh, that’s sad,’ and move on. But Suzie Bombardier was a person. She was here for only 14 years, but she was here.”
Gibbons is developing her writings about the Bombardier case into a longer-form memoir that will be her graduate thesis. Ideally she hopes to find an agent to help get it published, before setting her sights on writing a historical novel about Oona O’Neill Chaplin, daughter of Nobel and Pulitzer-Prize-winning American playwright Eugene O’Neill and the wife of Charlie Chaplin.