A 30-year-old cold-case murder case of a gay man in Salt Lake City has been closed and police have named a suspect who is now deceased. On May 16, 1982, Dennis Piernick was found dead in his apartment at 927 E. South Temple. He had been stabbed multiple times in the head and neck.
Piernick was gay, as were many key witnesses in the case who were afraid to come forward about the investigation because they feared backlash due to their sexual orientation, a Salt Lake City Police Department spokesperson said in a press release. Leads dried up and no arrests were made.
As the case was reviewed in 2011, a new detective learned that Piernick’s former neighbor Rodney VanKomen confessed to a friend in 1983 that he had murdered Piernick. The witness was afraid of VanKomen, who died in a car crash when he was 41 years old in 2005.
Detectives have since learned there were several factors linking VanKomen to the murder, including a backpack, clothing and a pack of cigarettes left at the scene. Also, an eyewitness placed VanKomen at the scene with the victim an hour before his death.
Based on the initial investigation and the new facts corroborated this year, police only now have probable cause to arrest VanKomen and since the suspect is deceased, the case is being closed. No motive was established, a SLCP spokesperson said.
In 1982 VanKomen was a 17-year-old runaway who frequently stayed with a friend who lived at Piernick’s apartment complex. Police also considered him a potential witness and suspect at the time.
The Police Department asks anyone with more information on Rodney VanKomen in this or any other case to call 801-799-3000. Anonymous tips may be sent by text message to CRIMES (274637). Please start the message with the keyword TIPSLCPD.