‘Do you know Becky Burke?’ DeKalb cold case victim identified after 30 years

Credit: DeKalb County District Attorney's Office

Credit: DeKalb County District Attorney's Office

Body of Cobb woman found near Tucker in 1993

An investigative technique that was used to identify the infamous Golden State Killer in California has helped DeKalb County officials identify a metro Atlanta woman 30 years after her body was found in a wooded area just outside Tucker.

But what happened to Rebecca “Becky” Burke remains a mystery.

On Sept. 16, 1993, Burke’s remains were found near Ranchwood and Parklake drives behind what used to be a Fairfield Inn, now a Quality Inn, and an empty doctor’s office, DeKalb District Attorney Sherry Boston told reporters Wednesday morning. The location is off Lavista Road, just to the west of I-285.

Her body, which was in an advanced state of decomposition, was located behind an electrical unit covered in pine straw and branches. The body appeared to have been deliberately placed there in an effort to conceal it, Boston said.

Investigators said Wednesday that the 52-year-old was last known to have lived in Cobb County, near the Marietta or Smyrna areas. Her family told investigators she may have also gone by the last names McChesney or Barnes.

Following an autopsy, medical examiners estimated Burke had died between two weeks and three months before she was found. Her cause of death is suspected to be blunt force trauma since she had sustained a traumatic injury to her face and a neck fracture that suggested pressure may have been applied to that area, according to Boston.

Credit: DeKalb County District Attorney's Office

Credit: DeKalb County District Attorney's Office

No form of identification was found near her body, but she had extensive dental work, including gold caps and a gold bridge, as well as wisdom teeth that had been removed prior to her death, the DA said. Burke also had a left hip replacement, which could have caused her to walk with an unusual gait.

Still, the woman remained unidentified for three decades. Since no missing person report was filed, her case eventually went cold.

Now, using an emerging investigative technique called “forensic genetic genealogy,” Burke was identified when her DNA was linked to a family member, Boston said. The technique uses public genealogical databases to identify possible family members of suspects or victims.

But investigators still need to learn what led to Burke’s death.

“Do you know Becky Burke, or did you interact with her in the days and months leading up to her death in the summer or early fall of 1993?” Boston asked. “Are you familiar with either the Fairfield Inn ... or the medical office that was vacant? ... Do you know anyone that might have worked or spent time at the Fairfield Inn during the summer and early fall of 1993?”

The technology used to identify Burke was first used in 2018 to identify the Golden State Killer, who terrorized Californians as a serial burglar and rapist in the 1970s and 1980s. It has since been used to help bring justice and closure for families in more than 600 cold cases, Boston said, including the death of 6-year-old William DaShawn Hamilton, whose body was found in 1999 near a Decatur cemetery.

The boy was identified in July, and his mother was arrested shortly after. It was that case that inspired the creation of the DeKalb County Cold Case Taskforce, Boston said, which consists of staff from the DA’s office, the medical examiner’s office, the FBI and GBI, and a private lab partner, Innovative Forensic Investigations.

The task force has been awarded $500,000 in federal grant money to work on identifying the county’s 27 cold case victims. The cases date as far back as 1987 and as recent as 2020, medical examiner’s office Director Patrick Bailey said. Of them, 13 are considered homicides and 12 have undetermined manners of death. The remaining two have been ruled an accident and suicide.

Some victims have been housed at the medical examiner’s office, and others will have to be exhumed, Boston said.

The DA’s office and medical examiner’s office will hold a “DNA drive” on May 20, during which family members of missing people can attend, share information about their loved one and provide a DNA sample collected via a buccal swab. The drive will be held at the DeKalb County Public Library on Covington Highway.

Anyone who may have known or interacted with Burke around the time of her death is asked to call the district attorney’s cold case tip line at 404-371-2444. Tipsters can remain anonymous.