The Catherine Blackburn cold case is one of the most tragic and haunting cases in Albany, New York’s history. Despite collecting mountains of evidence related to this 1964 murder, authorities have never arrested anyone for the crime.
The College of Saint Rose Cold Case Analysis Center (CCAC) is working in conjunction with local law enforcement and forensic labs across the country to bring Catherine’s killer to justice.
In September 1964, family members discovered the body of 50-year-old Catherine Blackburn inside her Albany apartment. An unknown assailant had struck Catherine in the back of the head, stabbed her in the neck, and burned her lips and chest. Upon examination of the body, investigators determined that Catherine died as a result of blood loss.
Her body was partially stripped, and the killer had both sexually assaulted her and dragged the body. Blackburn’s apartment was not burglarized or damaged. In fact, the only thing investigators determined was missing was the most recent rent receipt, which had the name “Robert Broadhead” written on it.
Catherine Blackburn was a very private person. She was a devout Catholic who had been separated from her husband for several years and was dating another man at the time of her death. She worked as a forewoman at Mohawk Brush Company, she was close to her family, and had many friends at work.
Prior to her murder, Blackburn had advertised her apartment for rent. According to reports, she had found a potential tenant and had agreed to rent the apartment to him. Witnesses provided various descriptions of this mysterious person, but no one has ever determined his identity. Catherine never shared his real name or his description with anyone.
The Cold Case
Blackburn’s killer has never been found — but not for lack of evidence. In fact, the crime scene included mountains of forensic evidence, such as clothing, sheets, and knives that contained a wealth of DNA. Of course, in 1964, DNA evidence didn’t mean as much as it does today since the technology didn’t exist to process it.
Fortunately, the New York State Police (NYSP) Forensic Investigation Center in Albany kept a lot of the evidence, and modern technology is now being used to pursue the Blackburn cold case.
Some of the most critical evidence, including a sheet and handkerchief that were used to soak up Blackburn’s blood, were sent to the Pure Gold Forensics Center in Redlands, California. The center is in the process of examining it using M-Vac DNA collection.
The M-Vac method uses a wet vacuum tool to collect DNA samples that may not be substantial enough to test using traditional collection techniques. The M-Vac tool can penetrate small cracks and crevices on a piece of evidence to collect enough DNA to run a test.
Collecting, analyzing, and potentially finding a match for DNA on the evidence from Blackburn’s apartment is the last — and best — hope investigators have for finding her killer. Half a dozen previously undetected DNA profiles have already been obtained from the remaining evidence. This DNA is also being compared with DNA found at similar crime scenes in other jurisdictions, as authorities suspect Catherine Blackburn was not this killer’s only victim.
How Cold Case Analysis Center Students are Helping
Although Blackburn died more than five decades ago, her family is still waiting for answers. Today, students at CCAC are applying their training in crime and psychology to the details of the Catherine Blackburn murder in hopes of finally giving her family closure.
As of right now, students at CCAC are tracking the genealogy of known suspects to hopefully find a DNA match. Genetic DNA tracing, which has solved a number of cold cases in recent years, is likely the best hope for bringing Blackburn’s killer to justice or at least providing some answers.
CCAC forensic science students are also attempting to trace the Catherine Blackburn Albany trail by tracking her movements around the area to see how she may have come into contact with any of the current persons of interest.
To learn more about the case and the psychology of the offender, students are building a detailed reconstruction of the crime scene. Through labs, interviews, and their own research, they continue to examine all potential leads in hopes of one day solving this case and bringing her family the answers and comfort they deserve.