Prime suspect died in 2005 car crash
July 12, 2012 — The Salt Lake City Police Department’s Homicide Investigators are closing the books on a 30-year-old cold case but are unable to arrest the suspect due to his death seven years ago.
On May 16, 1982, Dennis Piernick was found dead in his apartment at 927 E. South Temple. He had been stabbed multiple times about the head and neck.
The victim was gay, as were some witnesses. Investigative leads dried up due in part to the fact that some people were afraid to come forward given cultural norms of the time.
As part of a review of cold cases, the Piernick homicide was assigned to a new investigator in September 2011. It was while reinterviewing a witness that the new investigator learned Rodney VanKomen (12/29/64) confessed to a friend in 1983 that he had murdered Piernick. This witness had drug issues and was fearful of VanKomen 30 years ago.
In 1982 VanKomen was a 17-year-old runaway who frequently stayed with a friend who lived at Piernick’s apartment complex. Investigators also considered him a potential witness and suspect at the time.
Homicide Detectives have since learned there are several factors that link VanKomen to this murder, including a backpack, clothing and a pack of Camel cigarettes left at the scene. Furthermore, an eyewitness places VanKomen at the scene with the victim an hour before his death.
Based on the initial investigation and the new facts corroborated this year, Homicide Investigators now have probable cause to arrest VanKomen. However, the suspect died in a car crash in 2005.
Regardless, 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. Click here to download the TipSubmit mobile application.
A spokesman for the Piernick family is available to reporters. Please call the PIO for contact information.
Contact: Reporters seeking comment should contact the Public Information Officer at 801.799.NEWS (6397).