Gerald Kenneth Dunlap and the Janie Landers Cold Case

April 02, 2022

The Fairview training facility was a center for individuals with developmental issues and learning disabilities in Salem, Oregon. The establishment opened its doors in the 1900’s and remained open until the early 2000's. The property and surrounding land eventually changed hands in 2004, when it was sold off to Sustainable Development Inc.

Fairview housed and treated thousands of patients over the years and in the 1970s, one those patients, 18 year old Janie Landers, went missing from the hospital on the 9th of March 1979. Janie, although legally an adult, had the mental ability of an eight year old child and was classed as a vulnerable individual.

Five days later on the 14th of March 1979, the body of Janie Landers was discovered 24 miles away in Silver Falls State Park. Silver Falls is just a 40 minute drive from the Fairview facility. If the park sounds familiar, that’s because it was the backdrop to two mainstream movies- “The hunted” and “Twilight”. It was also location for a cult indie slasher flick titled “Just Before Dawn”, just two years after Miss Lander’s murder.

Janie had died as a result of blunt force trauma to the back of the skull. Her wounds told the story of her final moments; she fought back against her attacker and tried to defend herself from the knife he was lunging at her with. The teenager had defensive wounds to her hands and deep lacerations at her neck. She was small girl, weighing just over 100lbs and standing at 5”1, but she clearly gave it all she had fighting back.  She was known to be plucky and bold but these traits were sadly not enough to escape with her life.

One thing she did manage to do, however, was injure her attacker during the struggle, which caused him to bleed onto her vest. Although at the time DNA evidence at a crime scene wasn't considered all that helpful due to how primitive forensic investigation techniques were at time, investigators made one very important decision that would change the future of the case- they kept the bloodied vest perfectly sealed up for decades.

When the autopsy was performed, it revealed that she had most likely been murdered on the day that she went missing. Her bruised and battered body had lay out in the park for several days before being discovered.

During the days between Janie’s disappearance and the discovery of her body, police did the rounds interviewing people at the facility and the local area. A witness gave a statement to police, informing them that she had seen the teenage girl and an older man conversing outside of The Fairview training facility on the day she went missing. They said that the unidentified male was driving a golden colored sedan and provided a description that lead to these composite sketches: (source)

Despite the bloody vest, the witness report and composite sketch, the case went cold.

Janie’s younger sister, Joyce, who was just 13 at the time of the murder, refused to give up on the hunt for the killer. Time after time she encouraged the police to try again and again, and although they did each time, they simply didn’t have enough evidence to go on. In 2015 Joyce contacted the Oregon State Police yet again, pleading with them to take another look. This time, things would be different.

Investigators analyzed the blood stained vest and found that despite how many decades the garment had sat in evidence, there was DNA that had not yet expired. They tested it, ran it through a database, and astonishingly, found a match- Gerald Kenneth Dunlap.

Dunlap was a convicted sex offender who had been arrested and convicted in the sixties and got out on parole in the early seventies. It was revealed that when he was released from prison he had moved to Salem, where he got married and landed himself a job at the Fairview training facility working as a laundry assistant.

He would have been around 42 years of age at the time of Janie’s murder.

It’s probably no surprise to anyone reading his post that he was terminated from his position of employment in 1983 due to his inappropriate behavior towards female staff and patients.

A look at the payroll for Fairview indicated that Gerald Dunlap was at work on the day Janie went missing.  Police obtained Dunlap’s mug shot from a prison in Tennessee and mixed it in with shots of men of a similar age with similar features to create a photo-lineup. They called back the witnesses from 1979 and had them attempt to pick out the suspect they had seen all those years ago. Both witnesses pointed at the image of Gerald Dunlap.

Despite how closely he resembled the composite sketch, he was never interviewed or even suspected at the time of Janie’s murder. His name was on a sex offenders list in the state of California, but the Fairview center had neglected to do a thorough background check on Dunlap as they said they were unable to do nationwide checks back then.

Dunlap was unable to stop his criminal activities and was incarcerated for abusing a little girl in 1996.  He died behind bars in the early 2000’s.

When authorities interviewed his surviving wife and son they provided police with information that would further join the dots. Remember the golden sedan? Dunlap’s wife confirmed that her husband did drive a similar vehicle at the time of the murder. On top of that, an ex-employee of the Fairview said that he’d often see Dunlap offering rides to patients in that very same car. It really is a wonder that no one could finger Dunlap as a suspect even with the small scraps of information they had. Apparently Dunlap loved to go hiking at the location Janie Landers’ body was dumped.

Police theorize that on the day Janie disappeared she was likely forced into Dunlap’s car at knifepoint, taken to his favorite isolated hiking spot and murdered after a struggle. He probably thought the teenager was an easy target due to her developmental issues and small size but was shocked by the force that she retaliated with.  

The case was officially closed early November 2017.

Janie’s sister finally got the closure she had been looking for and the justice she wanted for her big sister Janie. Janie’s father, now 84 years old, lived long enough to see the case come to a close.


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