A statewide effort to solve some old homicides is shining a new spotlight on Barbara Blatnik, a 17-year-old girl whose nude and strangled body was found in 1987 near Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls.

“This crime has haunted this young woman’s family each and every day for the past 26 years, and they deserve to know who did this and why,” said Attorney General Mike DeWine, who launched his Ohio Unsolved Homicides Initiative last year.

So far, law enforcement agencies have submitted 1,829 cold cases to the database with the goal of spreading visibility, increasing the possibility for tips and helping jurisdictions compare details of unsolved crimes.

Last week, DeWine’s office put out a public plea for more information on Blatnik’s death.

“Even though this crime happened more than two decades ago, we haven’t forgotten about what happened to Barbara, and we are not going to,” Cuyahoga Falls Detective Randy Tlumac said. “Even the smallest bit of information could be exactly what we need to piece together what happened that night.”

Blatnik, a Garfield Heights teen who attended Erieview Catholic High School, was last seen alive shortly after midnight Dec. 20, 1987, at Warner Road and Grand Division Avenue. Her body was found later that morning, 30 miles away. She had been sexually assaulted.

“My mom and I had been Christmas shopping, and when we got home there were police cruisers in the driveway,” Blatnik’s sister, Donna Zanath, said in a statement through DeWine’s office. “Life was never the same after that. Her murder broke our family.”

“I think people were afraid to come forward with information after it happened, and we understand that, but it’s not too late to tell authorities what you know,” she said. “You can give my family the greatest gift this Christmas by coming forward. Closure is the only gift we need.”

Blatnik’s death was also notable for being the last in a string of four murders of women in the Akron area in a four-month span.

The proximity of the killings put the community on edge, with concerns that a serial killer might be at work.

The first death occurred that August when Janice Christensen, a computer operator at Cuyahoga Falls General Hospital, went jogging along the Bike and Hike trail in Hudson Township. Her body was found the next day in some brush just off the trail. She had been sexually assaulted and stabbed.

Two months later, JoAnn Bartholomew, a Stow mother, was found dead behind Chapel Hill Mall. She had failed to return home from a church service and her abandoned car was discovered the next day in the mall parking lot. Two days later, police found her body in the woods. She also had been sexually assaulted and stabbed.

A few weeks later, an Akron mother, Marcia Kay Piotter, was reported missing after failing to return home from playing bingo. Her body was eventually found in her car in the parking lot of an apartment complex in Northwest Akron. She had been stabbed in the neck and upper chest, but not sexually assaulted.

Blatnik’s body was found a week later.

When none of the deaths was solved by the following year, a task force was formed of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. The task force questioned suspects, conducted DNA testing of evidence and searched for new clues, but never found a weapon, nor a suspect to charge in any of the cases.

Today, most of those who worked on the cases don’t believe they were the work of a single killer.

Anyone with information regarding the murder of Barbara Blatnik should contact the Cuyahoga Falls Detective Bureau at 330-971-8334.

Those with information on this or any other unsolved homicide can also contact the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) at 855-BCI-OHIO or submit a tip through the Ohio attorney general’s website at www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov.

Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or pschleis@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.