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Gresham Police make arrest in 1980 cold case homicide

June 9, 2021

Using DNA technology not available to detectives in the 1980s, Gresham Police have identified a Troutdale man as the suspect in the city’s oldest cold case homicide.  Robert Plympton, 58, was arrested by detectives during a surveillance mission on June 8. Investigators allege that Plympton is responsible for the murder of 19-year-old Barbara Mae Tucker 41 years ago.

Tucker was a sophomore at Mt. Hood Community College at the time, studying business. Walking to an evening class on Jan. 15, 1980, she was seen running onto NE Kane Drive from the wooded area on the west edge of campus. At the time, multiple witnesses driving by recalled thinking the young woman was waiving at someone and trying to get people’s attention, but did not stop. A witness saw a man emerge from the shrubs and lead her back toward campus. A fellow student found Tucker’s body in nearby bushes the following morning. The medical examiner determined that Tucker had been sexually assaulted and beaten to death.

For more than four decades, police were unable to clearly identify a suspect, make an arrest or charge anyone for the murder.

However, based on physical evidence from the original crime scene, modern advances in DNA technology, DNA ancestry databases and research and analysis by Parabon NanoLabs, LLC, they recently made a DNA profile match that furthered the case and led to Plympton’s arrest.

"These cold cases are not lost or forgotten for our department,” Chief Claudio Grandjean noted. “Each one represents a person to our officers, and their tragic stories are passed down through the generations in hopes of one day bringing honor to their names and a sense of justice and closure to their cases.”

Although Barbara Tucker’s case is not completely closed yet, Plympton’s arrest marks the waypoint to clearing the oldest unsolved homicide from Gresham Police’s cold case files.

“I’m proud of our detectives, especially Detective Aaron Turnage and criminalist Deanna Grossi, who have worked this case for so many years. And I’m hopeful this development will help Barbara’s family and our community heal,” Chief Grandjean added.

Anyone who has additional information about this case or other unsolved homicides is asked to call Detective Aaron Turnage at 503-618-3136.

Robert Plympton