Real Name: Gretchen Troy Burford
Nicknames: No known nicknames
Location: Palo Alto, California
Date: February 26, 1988
Details: After raising three children, forty-nine-year-old Gretchen Burford decided to enroll in law school at the age of forty-one. By 1984, she had a full-time practice in Palo Alto, California. She specialized in criminal defense in juvenile law. People close to her say that she felt that her new career would be able to help the the more underprivileged minorities in society.
On Friday evening, February 26, 1988, Gretchen left her office and prepared to go home. Authorities are uncertain on her exact movements after she left, but according to bank records, at 6:37pm, she deposited a check for $449 at an ATM four blocks away. Authorities believe that while she was there, an unknown assailant entered her unlocked car and hid in the back seat. When she got back in, he accosted her and threatened her with a knife. It is unknown what exactly happened in the next twenty minutes, but it is believed that she may have tried talking him out of the crime, telling him about how he would face prison time otherwise.
At 7:02pm, Gretchen attempted to withdraw money from another ATM three miles away. This transaction was aborted when she tried to withdraw more than she was allowed. Authorities believe she may have done this to try and discourage the assailant. Two witnesses pulled up behind her car and saw her and the assailant struggling. She also tried to open the driver side door, but the assailant pulled her back in. She then drove quickly away from the bank and straight into a parked car. She exited hers, screaming "He stabbed me!" At the same time, two young men arrived at the scene to help her; they watched as the assailant fled the scene.
Authorities believe that Gretchen deliberately caused the accident in order to escape the assailant. Tragically, she was unsuccessful; he stabbed her once in the chest. Her car came to rest just 150 yards from the ATM. The two young men were able to get a good look at the assailant before he vanished. Gretchen was taken to the emergency room; tragically, she passed away shortly after.
When authorities arrived at the scene, they noticed a paisley hat in the back of Gretchen's car. It is believed that it was left by the killer. The next day, a butcher knife with an eight inch blade was recovered; it was determined to be the murder weapon. It was found in a driveway just a block from the murder scene. Authorities learned that the hat was sold at just two stores in the area. However, they have yet to connect it to a suspect.
Suspects: The killer was described as 6'0" to 6'3" tall, 180-220 pounds, of athletic build, and dark-skinned; he has yet to be identified. He is believed to have left a paisley hat at the scene.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the September 12, 1990 episode.
Results: Solved. In 2005, DNA evidence found in the paisley hat linked Gretchen's murder to Tyrone Hamel, who was already serving a life sentence in Texas for robbery and rape. Investigators learned that he had been in Palo Alto at the time for a friend's funeral. Along with Gretchen, he also robbed and raped several women at knifepoint in Texas. He was arrested for those crimes sometime later in 1988.
In 2007, a fingerprint at the scene was also linked to Tyrone. In January 2008, he confessed to Gretchen's murder and pleaded guilty. Since she did not believe in the death penalty, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
- The State (1988 LA Times Article)
- Unsolved killings haunt police
- Inmate in Texas linked to sweat on cap left in car
- Investigator breathes life into cold cases
- Tyrone Hamel Sentenced to Life without Parole for 1988 Murder of Prominent Attorney Gretchen Burford
- Killer apologizes for '88 murder of Palo Alto attorney
- Man apologizes, pleads guilty for 1988 murder
- Career criminal pleads guilty in 1988 murder
- Bufford killer: "I'm crying a river of tears inside"
- Life sentence for man who killed Palo Alto attorney in 1988
- Tyrone Hamel on Texas Prison Inmates
- Gretchen Burford on Find a Grave