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November 24, 2014

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Long trail, sometimes cold, led to arrest in slayings from 1978, 1994

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Las Vegas Metro Police Department

Nathaniel Burkett, 62, is led into the Clark County Detention Center after his arrest on two counts of murder and sexual assault.

Barbara Cox

Barbara Cox

Tina Mitchell

Tina Mitchell

Nathan Burket

Nathan Burket

It was early Saturday, April 22, 1978, when a witness led Metro Police to the corner of an apartment building just north of downtown. There they encountered a gruesome sight.

Officers found a dead woman lying nude between a parking stall and a wall at 211 W. Wilson Ave. Livid marks and scratches on the victim’s neck suggested that the woman, 22-year-old Barbara Ann Cox, had been strangled to death. Abrasions covered her back, and a cut was spotted over her right eye.

More than a decade later, on Sunday, Feb. 20, 1994, a resident stepped out to the rear of his apartment at 902 N. H St., less than a mile away from the 1978 murder. He was on his way to the clothesline when he discovered a dead woman lying face down, covered in towels. The victim, 27-year-old Tina Gayle Mitchell, also had marks around the neck, suggesting she had been strangled.

For years, the cases remained unsolved. DNA evidence from the two women was preserved in the hopes of one day solving the homicides.

Armed with funding from a 2009 U.S. Department of Justice cold case grant, Metro Police were able to complete a backlog of DNA testing and now have a suspect in the two slayings.

Nathaniel Burkett, 62, was charged with murder and sexual assault in both cases. He was extradited from Mississippi after officials found his DNA profile matched the DNA of sperm samples taken from the bodies of the two women shortly after their deaths.

Metro Police encountered Burkett shortly after Cox’s body was discovered, according to Metro documents released Tuesday. The witness who initially reported the crime and who took police to Cox’s body was identified at the time as Burkett’s girlfriend. The woman told police she had completed a work shift at the Aladdin Hotel about 4:20 a.m. While leaving, Burkett, who also worked at the hotel, asked her for a ride home. The woman noticed Cox’s dead body when they arrived at Burkett’s residence and subsequently contacted a North Las Vegas Police patrol car on her way home about the body.

Officers could not find the body until the woman contacted them again; she had given the wrong address. This time she returned to lead Metro officers to the scene.

Nearby, at 215 Wilson Ave., police found Burkett on the sidewalk less than an hour later that morning. He was carrying a bottle and glass half full with whiskey. Intoxicated, Burkett was “obnoxious and belligerent” toward to the police at first, the report said. He denied seeing Cox around 215 W. Wilson Ave. but said he had seen her in the apartments across the street. Found unfit for interrogation, Burkett was escorted by a uniformed officer to his apartment, where he passed out.

In June 1994, Metro Police were still searching for a suspect in Mitchell’s slaying earlier that year. Detectives appeared to have a breakthrough when an arrest warrant was approved for a suspect. But a year later, prosecutors dismissed the case. Four years later, the District Attorney’s Office allowed evidence in the case to be released back to detectives.

Both investigations slowed over the years and the detectives involved in the respective cases were assigned to other murder cases.

The Cox and Mitchell cases went cold from active investigation until 2010.

Metro Police had received a grant of nearly $500,000 just the year before from the National Institute of Justice’s Solving Cold Cases with DNA Program. The Institute, which is part of the U.S Department of Justice, provided the department with the funding for forensic scientists to develop a DNA profile of the perpetrator.

In May 2010, Cox’s sister made a call to Metro Police’s Cold Case Team, asking about the unsolved 1978 case. About two weeks later, a request was filed to have Cox’s DNA samples tested.

In November 2011, more than 30 years after Cox’s murder, forensic scientists reported a match between Cox’s sample and Burkett, according to the police documents. Burkett had been living in the Las Vegas Valley area on and off since 1965, according to Metro’s Police Records Bureau. His criminal record included two manslaughter convictions, one in 1982 in Mississippi and another in 2004 in Clark County. He was released from the Nevada Department of Corrections in July 2009 after serving six years in the 2002 death of 41-year-old Valetter Jean Bousley.

Bousley had also been found strangled to death in an alcove adjacent to 1312 F St., less than a mile from where Mitchell’s body had been found in 1994, according to Metro Police. The 2004 conviction was a “qualifying offense” that required Burkett to give a DNA sample that eventually led to his arrest for Cox and Mitchell’s slayings.

For months, officials from Metro, the FBI and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations (MBI) tried to locate Burkett in Picayune, Miss. On June 6, 2012, an MBI officer observed a man he believed to be the suspect based on photographs and the distinctive limp.

On July 2, forensic scientists finally tied Mitchell’s samples to Burkett.

On July 18, detectives and an MBI lieutenant arrested Burkett at his sister’s home in Carriere, Miss. Burkett was “immediately hostile and confrontational” when told that a search warrant had been issued to collect a DNA sample, according to the declaration.

Burkett was shown pictures of Cox and Mitchell but denied knowing or having consensual sex with them. A detective placed a swab into Burkett’s mouth and shipped the cell samples to Metro Police’s Forensic Library.

On July 23, forensic scientists connected Burkett through the new samples to Cox and Mitchell.

Burkett has been extradited from Mississippi is in custody at the Clark County Detention Center without bail. He is scheduled to appear in court Thursday.

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  1. I'm shocked that someone who had two murder convictions was out on the street in the first place. I know someone serving over 20 years for combined drug and theft charges. Seems like an uneven scale of justice.

  2. I think the story says Mr. Burkett has two manslaughter convictions. I will wildly speculate that the evidence against Burkett in those two cases was too weak for the prosecutors to feel confident they coud get a murder conviction.