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Troutdale man suspected of teen's slaying in 1980 appears in court

Robert Plympton is facing murder, rape and sex abuse charges in the death of Barbara Mae Tucker in Gresham more than four decades ago.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Robert Plympton, of Troutdale, was in court Wednesday to face murder, rape and sex abuse charges. For the family of his alleged victim, Barbara Mae Tucker, the hearing was long overdue.

"Just really happy there's some closure," said Susan Prater, the victim's sister. "I wish it could've happened when my folks were alive. That would've been wonderful."

A lot has happened in the more than four decades since Tucker was killed at the young age of 19.

"She had a mind of her own," Prater said. "She was going places. She was planning on getting a degree in business at the college."

Tucker was last seen on Jan. 15, 1980. Witnesses reported seeing her run onto Northeast Kane Drive from the woods on the west edge of Mt. Hood Community College. 

Witnesses said Tucker was either waving at someone or trying to get someone's attention, but nobody stopped. 

Another witness saw a man emerge from the woods and lead Tucker back to campus. Her body was found the next morning. She had been sexually assaulted and beaten to death.

"The community was gripped in fear as to who was the suspect, what happened, why, a lot of unanswered questions," said Det. Aaron Turnage of the Gresham Police Department. "Gresham was a quiet town."

Credit: Mike Benner, KGW staff
Det. Aaron Turnage, along with criminalist Deanna Grossi, were instrumental in cracking the case.

Det. Turnage took on the cold case homicide in 2015, after years of police work yielded no suspect. He promised Tucker's family he would track down the killer.

"Every victim, especially dead victims, deceased victims, murder victims, need a voice," he said.

Det. Turnage says evidence from the crime scene, coupled with modern advances in DNA technology and DNA ancestry databases, along with research and analysis by Parabon NanoLabs, led to a DNA profile match.

RELATED: Gresham police arrest Troutdale man in 1980 cold case murder

"We executed a traffic stop," Det. Turnage said. "Mr. Plympton was taken into custody without incident. He was polite and cooperative with law enforcement."

Credit: Multnomah Co. Sheriff's Office
Plympton, 58, is facing a number of charges including murder and rape.

That was Tuesday morning. By Wednesday afternoon, the husband and father was in court for allegedly killing a teenager 41 years ago.

"I think he got to live so much of his life after that," Prater said. "I feel sorry for any family he might have but he took somebody from us."

RELATED: Man charged with murder in two Portland killings 20 years apart