Investigation Discovery’s ‘On the Case with Paula Zahn: A Face with No Name’ depicts how 27-year-old Gina Gruenwald was found brutally murdered in Denver, Colorado, in late August 2004. While the investigators found forensic evidence that implicated the perpetrator, they had to wait almost a decade before getting a hit. If you’re interested in finding out more about the case, including the killer’s identity and current whereabouts, we’ve your back. Let’s dive in then, shall we?
How Did Gina Gruenwald Die?
Gina Gail Gruenwald was born to Annie Gruenwald in Tulsa in Tulsa County, Oklahoma, on November 9, 1976. She had been a star athlete in high school, a college softball player at Oklahoma State University, and a second mother to her young siblings, Sarah Campbell and Emily Collier. They reminisced how Gina got them everything they wanted anytime, with Emily adding, “She spoilt us for sure.” After graduation, she moved to Denver in Denver County, Colorado, where she shared an apartment with her friends.
Gina’s friend and roommate, Melissa Sullivent, recalled, “Gina was the most loyal person you would ever meet and the hardest worker I had ever known. She wasn’t afraid of anything and was a pretty awesome friend.” Her friend, Brandy Harris, added how Gina did not seem to have “one bad bone in her body,” causing everyone to love her. Hence, it was shocking when a man collecting his morning newspaper stumbled upon the 27-year-old’s lifeless body in the breezeway between two homes around 6:00 AM on August 21, 2004.
The individual saw a significant amount of blood and immediately called 911. When the emergency respondents arrived, they found Gina lying face-up with at least one stab-type wound to her neck. The forensic pathologist noted she had not been dead for long and created a time frame roughly between 2:30 and 5:30 AM using her body temperature. The autopsy revealed the victim had a significant injury to both the carotid artery and the jugular vein, and the official cause of death was the stab wound to her neck.
Who Killed Gina Gruenwald?
According to police sources, Gina was fully clothed, but her jeans were unzipped and unbuttoned, and her shirt was partially raised while her belt was off. Though the evidence leaned toward sexual assault, the autopsy determined she had not been raped. The medical examiner also found quite a bit of bruising along the front and left side of the face and a bite mark on her left wrist. When an expert concluded the injury was suspicious, forensic experts carefully swabbed the area and retrieved evidence for DNA analysis.
Meanwhile, the investigators found the murder weapon — a blood-stained knife — by the body and blood stains on the left wall of the breezeway. There were shoe prints on the mud and an area disturbed in front of the home, which could be the scene of the struggle. It also appeared the perpetrator had gone through the victim’s pockets, with change lying outside her left pocket, lipstick outside her right one, and traces of blood inside both pockets. The evidence indicated Gina might have been a victim of an attempted sexual assault and robbery.
As the forensic experts ran the DNA profile, the police focused on finding the victim’s identity. They noted she carried no purse, ID, or credit cards. Around 14 hours into the investigation, they received a breakthrough when Melissa filed a missing person report for her friend and roommate, Gina. She claimed the 27-year-old had last been seen a few miles away from the crime scene, and based on her description, she and another friend, Brandy Harris, were sent to the coroner’s office to identify the Jane Doe.
After the devastated friends positively identified Gina, the officers interviewed them to learn she and Brandy had been out drinking and dancing on the evening of August 20. The latter told the officers she wanted to call it a night around 2:00 AM, but Gina insisted on attending an after-party a few blocks from the Denver bar they had been at. Brandy claimed she last saw her leaving with two unknown women around 2:00 AM. According to her, Gina had left her car at the bar and taken a red one with her two female acquaintances.
Thus, the police searched Gina’s car and found her purse and phone, indicating she had never returned from the party and was killed in between. The two young women voluntarily came forward after the media carried out the murder story. They stated Gina was unsure about the address, and they drove according to her direction but could not find the party. The women alleged the victim insisted they dropped her at the spot, though they were uncomfortable leaving her alone at that time of night.
While the investigators initially suspected the two women, they were cleared once the DNA analysis showed the bite mark on Gina’s hand came from a male donor. The police had also found a black duffel bag approximately 15 feet from the body. The authorities searched it to find a shirt, a do-rag, a razor, and two time-stamped receipts from a nearby Walgreens and a dollar store. When the clothing items and the razor matched the DNA from the bite mark, the officers checked the surveillance footage of both stores to look for the perpetrator.
While the dollar store offered a grainy image, the detectives retrieved a partially clear picture of the suspect from Walgreens’ security footage. Even though the police circulated the photograph, they had to wait for almost seven years before they got a breakthrough. In April 2011, CODIS had a match for the DNA retrieved from the crime scene — 42-year-old Billy Jene Wilson. His DNA had been entered into the national database after he was arrested over 1,000 miles away in San Francisco for an unrelated felony charge.
Where is Billy Wilson Now?
According to police sources, Billy had come to Denver for a drug rehab program to treat his alcohol and drug problems in the weeks leading up to Gina’s murder. Yet, he had fallen astray from the program and was living on the streets when he came across her on August 21, 2004. Though Billy claimed he killed the woman by accident, the prosecution provided evidence that indicated he and Gina had struggled. They claimed he tried to rob and sexually assault her and killed her when she put up a defense.
The medical examiner testified that the victim’s bruised knuckles on her right hand and a cut to the webbing between her left thumb and index finger suggested she tried to grab the knife and fought. The jury eventually sided with the prosecution and found Billy guilty of attempted sexual assault, felony murder, and second-degree murder on July 19, 2012. He was sentenced to life without parole in August 2012, and the 54-year-old is incarcerated at the Sterling Correctional Facility in Sterling, Colorado.