CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Salt Lake City Police announce the closure of a 48-year-old cold case

May 26, 2022, 9:00 PM | Updated: Dec 30, 2022, 11:20 am

Salt Lake City Police say James Bednarik, pictured here, was murdered on Feb. 28, 1974. The case ha...

Salt Lake City Police say James Bednarik, pictured here, was murdered on Feb. 28, 1974. The case had gone cold until a recent forensic test showed fingerprints taken from the scene belonged to George B. Toone, who died in 2001 of natural causes. Photo credit: Salt Lake City Police Department

SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City Police Department announced Thursday the closure of a cold case homicide from 48 years ago.

Police say James Bednarik was shot and killed on Feb. 28, 1974 at 9:30 p.m. 

During the investigation, police say the suspect, who has been identified as George B. Toone, was hiding as he waited for Bednarik to return home in the 500-block of East First Avenue. Police described the murder as an execution.

Salt Lake City cold case

In the investigation, all available leads were explored by detectives. However, police were unable to identity the suspect.

As part of the investigation, investigators developed a profile about Bednarik. Through their research, investigators discovered that Bednarik was selling stolen gasoline. Police say that a year prior to his murder, Bednarik had gotten into a dispute with an owner of a gas station over stolen gas. 

Police say that Bednarik had allegedly shot and injured the owner as a result of the argument. 

In 2018, the homicide squad from the Salt Lake City Police Department used new forensic technology to test the evidence from the 1974 cold case. However, no new leads were generated as a result of the test.

In 2022, two retired police detectives, while having lunch, discussed the case. Eventually, the two detectives learned that Toone had reportedly confessed to killing two men in Salt Lake County, including Bednarik, at the request of the gas station owner, police say.

Forensic test

The detectives then requested the Salt Lake City Police Department Crime Lab to perform a forensic test on two latent fingerprints collected at the crime scene in 1974. According to police, those fingerprints came back to Toone.

“In recent years, DNA and other technology has greatly aided in solving cold cases along with new cases,” said SLCPD Chief Mike Brown in a press release. “This is a great example of the continued dedication, professionalism, and care both active and retired officers have in these cases. I’m proud of our detectives. They never let up in their pursuit of justice.” 

Based on the evidence they now have in the case; Salt Lake City Police say the detectives are now confident that Toone was responsible for the death of Bednarik.

Police also say that Toone, 75, died in 2001 of natural causes in California. According to authorities, Bednarik’s family has been notified of the status in the case.

Additionally, police are also continuing to investigate the reports that Toone allegedly murdered another individual in Salt Lake County. If you have information on that case, police would like to hear from you.

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Salt Lake City Police announce the closure of a 48-year-old cold case