Sandpoint police crack 1987 cold case, murder suspect arrested

Sandpoint police crack 1987 cold case, murder suspect arrested
Sandpoint Police Department
William R. Acosta has been arrested in the 1987 murder of Tammy Bristowe. 

An arrest has been made in a Sandpoint cold case stemming from a murder in 1987.

Police have arrested William R. Acosta in the murder of 18-year-old Tammy Bristow.

Sandpoint police crack 1987 cold case, murder suspect arrested

On January 8, 1987, Sandpoint Police and other first responders were dispatched to an apartment in south Sandpoint for reports of an unresponsive woman.

Police found Bristow dead from strangulation. There were no signs of forced entry and it appeared the suspect may have been familiar with the victim or the premises.

Detectives believed the motive may have been robbery because there was money unaccounted for at the scene.

Sandpoint police crack 1987 cold case, murder suspect arrested

The crime scene was processed and Fred Gauerke was named as the primary suspect and eventually charged with murder. At a press conference Friday, Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshall said fiber evidence originally linked Geurke to the crime.

Marshall said the fiber identified resembled fibers from Bristow’s apartment. However, during testing, the FBI conclusively said the fibers did not match.

After a preliminary hearing in 1987, the prosecuting attorney reviewed the evidence again and filed a motion to dismiss the charges until further evidence could be collected. Police said Gauerke remained the primary suspect up until recently.

Marshall said Gauerke is still alive to their knowledge and living in the upper Midwest. He said Gauerke was a colorful character and had been doing strange things around town at the time of the Bristow’s murder.

Marshall said Gauerke broke into a woman’s home in south Sandpoint six days after Bristow’s murder and held a victim captive for up to 20 minutes. He also had Bristow’s bible on his person when he was arrested. All these years later, police still do not know why her bible was in his possession. On Friday, Marshall said Gauerke has been the suspect in several crimes across the Midwest since 1987.

Determined to crack Bristow’s case, detectives decided to reopen it in 2016. Marshall said detectives gathered evidence to send to the Idaho State Forensic Lab for further testing. That evidence was Bristow’s fingernails. The lab located a man’s DNA, which was tested against Gauerke and determined to not be a match. It was entered into the CODIS system and came back as a match to William R. Acosta.

Acosta was living in Sandpoint at the time of the murder. He was recently arrested at his home in Ponderay.

Marshall said there was a connection between Bristow and Acosta; around the time of her murder, Bristow had been babysitting for Acosta’s girlfriend.

Acosta has been in trouble with the law before. He has charges out of the Phoenix area, including vehicular homicide and aggravated assault on a police officer. Acosta was also convicted and served time for the robbery of a Sandpoint cab driver in 1988.

Sandpoint Police say dna evidence links William Acosta to the 1987 murder of 18 year old Tammy Bristowe. Acosta was just arraigned in Bonner County, he’s applied for a public defender. #kxly

— Kyle Simchuk (@KyleKXLY) June 28, 2019

A grand jury was empaneled Thursday and returned with an indictiment of first-degree murder. Acosta was taken into custody without incident and is being he is on $1 million bond. He made his first apperance in court Friday at 1:30 p.m.

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