Honoring Berks veterans

Dec. 1—For 22 years, Cynthia Baver's loved ones were anguished by not knowing who killed the 46-year-old woman after breaking into her Reading home.

She was beaten, strangled and stabbed multiple times on April 7, 2001. Police found her body in the living room the next day after neighbors, concerned she hadn't collected her mail or newspaper, asked for a welfare check.

Unlike many unsolved murders in the city, mostly involving gunfire from a distance, this particular murder scene wasn't lacking in forensic evidence. Blood other than the victim's was found on all three levels of the home in the 1100 block of North 10th Street, as well as in a nearby breezeway.

Despite this, the case went cold because the unidentified DNA profile of the presumed killer did not match any profiles in the FBI's Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, Berks County District Attorney John T. Adams said Friday.

Adams called a press conference to announce a breakthrough after all these years made possibly only through the use of advanced DNA analysis.

A suspect whom investigators said had close encounters with police the day the killing was discovered — and who lived next door to Baver at the time — was recently identified through genetic genealogy funded by the district attorney's office.

Timothy B. Bernard, 62, of Reading was arrested Thursday in the murder of his former neighbor. Bernard of the 900 block of Joan Terrace was committed to Berks County Prison without bail following arraignment before District Judge Priscilla Campos in Reading Central Court.

Bernard faces charges of first- and third-degree murder, burglary and aggravated assault.

It's only the second case to be solved using the genealogical DNA analysis, Adams said.

Last year state police used that technology, with funding help from Adams' office, to identify a suspect in the 1988 strangling of Anna Kane, 26, whose body was found Oct. 23, 1988, along Ontelaunee Trail in a sparsely wooded area near Route 662 in Perry Township. The suspect died in 2018 of natural causes.

Adams said the motive for Baver's killing remains unknown, but it's clear Baver did not let her killer into the home.

A push to reopen

The case would have gone unsolved because even if investigators at the time suspected Bernard as a possible suspect, they lacked probable cause to obtain a DNA sample from him, Adams said.

Until recently.

A few years ago, the district attorney said, Baver's father, who is now in his 90s, contacted Criminal Investigator Daniel Cedeno, whom he knew, and asked if he would look into the unsolved death of his daughter.

"The case was reopened in 2021, and this investigation began in earnest," Adams said.

According to officials:

A review of the case file showed blood was found on numerous household items and the bannister of the stairs leading from the second to third floor. They also found blood and shattered glass near a third-floor window leading to the rear roof of the home through which the intruder is believed to have entered.

On the roof they found the screen to the window. The roof connects the home to the adjoining home where Bernard resided.

An autopsy showed ligature marks on Baver's neck, fractures to the front and back of her skull and stab wounds to the left side of her chest. The cause of death was determined to be stab wounds to her heart and other vital organs.

After reopening the case, investigators took samples of blood evidence to the state police crime laboratory to verify if there was sufficient quantity and quality of DNA material available to conduct forensic genealogical analysis.

In September 2022, state police Bureau of Forensic Services informed investigators that the DNA testing produced a profile of an unknown male.

The genetic genealogy services were conducted by a Virginia laboratory specializing in forensic genealogy DNA testing and analysis.

Through open-source tracing of the family tree of the still-unknown DNA profile, scientists determined the blood sample contained the DNA profile of a person of African American descent with genealogical ties to people living in Suffolk, Va.

Through investigation, Cedeno discovered a male fitting the genealogical and geographical descriptions had lived next door to Baver. He was identified as Timothy Bernard.

On Sept. 18, Cedeno interviewed Bernard in the presence of his wife. He confirmed he was from Suffolk.

He also confirmed that he had resided on the second floor of the home next to Baver's home in April 2001 and had access to the third floor.

Bernard told investigators that he had met Baver on several occasions.

According to the probable cause affidavit, he also stated that he would knock on her front door to buy marijuana from her and remain there for a few minutes during the transaction. He said he was in the residence only once for about 15 minutes, investigators said.

"He told investigators that on the night she was killed he heard noises through the walls of Cynthia's residence," Adams said, "and that he got to her first-floor window to complain to Cynthia about the noise and went back to his residence.

"Later he encountered an officer as he exited his residence to go to work and was asked to speak to that officer but he chose not to."

At the same interview, Bernard allowed Cedeno to collect a DNA sample by swabbing the inside of his cheek.

The sample was sent to the state police forensic lab where it was confirmed that his DNA profile matched the DNA profile developed from the blood found on the video case and stair bannister.

Adams said he wasn't clear what if any follow-up police did of Bernard in 2001, but he's fairly certain Reading police investigators would have investigated him further.

He credited the tenacity of Cedeno in reopening the case and his department requesting funding to use the advanced technology.

Other cold cases

Adams said perpetrators of other murders committed decades ago have reason to worry.

"This technology has brought new life to solving old cases," he said. " We are hopeful to continue to utilize this technology moving forward on other cold cases that have the evidentiary components to take advantage of this technology."

He's put out word to Berks County's police chiefs to refer any cases that have the potential to be solved through genealogical testing.

Unfortunately, he said, in many of Reading's unsolved homicides, most of them shootings, the killers don't leave behind DNA evidence so genealogy testing isn't possible.

Family thankful

About a half-dozen relatives of Baver's attended the press conference in the county detectives office. Her father was unable to attend.

Speaking to members of the media after the press conference, Baver's niece, Crystal Baver, said the family is thankful that they may finally have some closure after 22 years.

"Obviously the unfortunate part is my aunt hasn't been able to enjoy that time," she said. "The fortunate part is we will hopefully have some closure, especially for my grandpop, Cynthia's father, who is in his 90s.

"So this means a whole lot to our family to actually be able to put this to rest."