Barbara Tucker’s family ‘had hope’ 1980 murder would be solved


Robert Plympton arrested Tuesday

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Barbara Tucker’s family said her 1980 murder case wasn’t just cold. It was frigid. But late Tuesday night they got a knock on their door from the Gresham detective who had been working on this case for years to tell them an arrest was made.

Tucker’s family said it was an emotional moment for everyone involved. Detective Aaron Turnage told them he wouldn’t rest until the case was solved.

Barbara Tucker’s sister, Susan Pater, reacts to an arrest in Tucker’s 1980 murder, June 9, 2021 (KOIN)

“Just not giving up. We always had hope,” said Tucker’s sister, Susan Pater. “At one point we though he was dead. Maybe it would never be solved. I just wished it could have happened when the rest of my family was here, especially my parents.”

Turnage said there was one thing that kept him going in the case.

“I promised her I was going to solve this case. If that means working around the clock, that’s what happens,” the detective said. “There has been lots of hurdles and sitting down and experiencing that with the family last night is something I’ve never experienced in my career. It’s pretty awesome.”

Pater said she did not recognize the name of the suspect, Robert Plympton.

“We didn’t know all of Barbie’s friends, but it sounds like he was a complete stranger. Just out of the blue,” she said.

The suspect

A 58-year-old Troutdale man was arrested after DNA evidence linked him to the unsolved 1980 murder of a Mt. Hood Community College student.

Robert Plympton is accused in the 1980 murder of a Mt. Hood CC student, June 8, 2021 (Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office)

Robert Plympton was taken into custody by Gresham police on Tuesday and is charged with the rape and murder of Barbara Mae Tucker, who was 19 at the time. He’s booked at the Multnomah County Jail on charges of 1st- and 2nd-degree murder, plus 1st-degree rape and sex abuse.

Authorities said the break in the case came from DNA technology that was not available 41 years ago.

Plympton made his first court appearance on Wednesday and pleaded not guilty.

The case

Barbara Tucker was a business student at Mt. Hood CC. On the night of January 15, 1980, she was seen running onto NE Kane Drive from a wooded area on the west edge of the campus, authorities said. Multiple witnesses saw her but thought she was waving at someone. Another witness saw a man come out from the shrubs and led her back to campus.

The next day, a student found Tucker’s body in nearby bushes. She had been sexually assaulted and beaten to death.

Physical evidence from the scene was maintained and recently a DNA profile match led investigators to Plympton.

Gresham PD Detective Aaron Turnage, June 9, 2021 (KOIN)

The investigation continues, officials said.

In a statement, Gresham PD Chief Claudio Grandjean said, “These ‘cold cases’ are not lost or forgotten for our department. Each one represents a person to our officers, and their tragic stories are passed down through the generations in hopes of one day bringing honor to their names and a sense of justice and closure to their cases.”

He noted the efforts of Detective Turnage and criminalist Deanna Grossi who worked on the case for years.

Barbara Tucker, who was murdered in 1980, seen in an undated courtesy photo provided June 9, 2021

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