By Liz Collin

KIMBALL, Minnesota (WCCO) — A brutal murder has haunted a tiny central Minnesota town for decades. Next week will mark 40 years since Myrtle Cole, who was 81 years old, died inside her Fairhaven home. Investigators hope a public push for help could finally close the case.

Dorothy Kersten and Verna Salmela were mothers raising their families when someone killed Myrtle Cole on the morning of Dec. 12, 1981.

“It was unbelievable that a small town like ours that something like that should happen,” Salmela said.

“It did change our lives,” Kersten said.

A quiet widow who hosted weekly Bible studies in a modest home without running water, Cole was strangled and stabbed after her killer broke through a window.

“My mother-in-law was never the same after that. She was so sorrowful over losing such a good friend,” Selmela said.

Forty years later there is a renewed push to find the person who did it. Two billboards went up this week near Kimball, asking for tips and advertising a reward.

The best piece of evidence in this case is a bloody palmprint investigators found on a pillow case inside Cole’s home.

“As time has evolved for us in law enforcement in general, with science and technology we’re able to reevaluate that evidence, so we’re presently doing that,” Stearns County Sheriff Steve Soyka said.

Soyka believes this case may be close to being solved. He’s assigned a team of six investigators to focus on the few remaining cold cases in the county that date back to the ’70s.

“It’s very frustrating when you can’t solve a crime and you have to leave it sitting their open,” Soyka said.

They are hoping a public plea will hold that critical clue.

“I think that billboard being up is a great idea. I think it could help solve the whole crime,” Kersten said.

If you know anything about the case, you’re asked to call Tri-County Crimestoppers at 1-800-255-1301. Online tips can also be reported to p3tips.com.

There is a $1,000 reward in the case.

Liz Collin