Arraignment Tuesday for man charged with murder

Posted: Sunday, March 30, 2003

Arraignment has been scheduled for Tuesday in Kenai Superior Court for the Oklahoma man charged with the 1985 murder of Opal Fairchild of Soldotna.

Barry McCormack, 52, was arrested without incident in Poteau, Okla., Monday and extradited by Alaska State Troopers to Alaska to face first- and second-degree murder charges.

The arrest came as the result of an extensive investigation by troopers, members of the trooper's cold-case unit in Soldotna and the state Crime Detection Laboratory, according to a trooper statement.

The investigation involves two Kenai Peninsula cases that took place 12 days apart in 1985.

On March 8, Melvin Anderson was robbed at gunpoint in his woodstove retail store in Sterling. He was shot once in the head by the robber who fled with about $500 from the cash register.

Anderson survived the shooting and investigators were able to recover the bullet from his head.

On March 20, Opal Fairchild, 65, was killed by a single gunshot to her head in what appeared to be a robbery in her Soldotna home on East Poppy Lane.

The bullet recovered from Fairchild matched the bullet recovered from Anderson.

Fingerprints found at both crime scenes were run without a match in the Alaska Automated Fingerprint Identification System.

The investigation continued, but after following every lead to its logical conclusion, the case fell into "cold case" status, according to troopers.

In August 2000, the troopers' Criminal Investigation Bureau asked the State Crime Lab to conduct a follow-up search to compare latent fingerprints found at the Fairchild crime scene with current data in the AAFIS system.

This time a match was made with the fingerprints of McCormack. Subsequent analysis also matched latent prints from the Anderson crime scene to those of McCormack.

According to Greg Wilkinson, trooper spokesperson, McCormack's fingerprints were taken in 1991 when he applied for a school bus driver's certificate in Soldotna and the prints were entered into AAFIS.

For unknown reasons, the fingerprint system at that time did not alert investigators to a match.

Only two things could have happened, Wilkinson said Friday.

"Computers are just computers and may have missed it, or it may be that only prints from one or two fingers or partial prints were entered into the system in 1985 and there wasn't enough to match the prints entered in 1991. Nobody knows."

Last year, troopers created their cold-case unit and investigators were able to contact McCormack by phone in Oklahoma. They then traveled to Oklahoma to interview him about the two crimes.

McCormack, who was employed as a local-delivery truck driver, was served with a search warrant allowing troopers to take his fingerprints and a DNA sample.

On March 21, a grand jury in Kenai indicted him on one count of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder in the Fairchild case.

He was not and cannot be charged in the Anderson robbery because the statute of limitations has run out on the crime, according to Wilkinson. No limitation applies in murder cases in Alaska.

Investigators also believe the murder weapon is possibly a Ruger Speed Six .357 revolver that had been pawned in the early 1990s in Anchorage.

A $1,000 reward is being offered for the recovery of the gun. Its serial number, which can be found on the bottom of the handle by removing the grip, is 159-13540. Anyone with information about the gun is asked to contact troopers at 262-4453.

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