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Bizarre head wound helped solve 1975 San Jose cold case

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San Jose police detectives have solved many cold cases over the years, but one stands out from the rest: the 1975 murder of Amado Hermosillo.

The case was closed in 2002 after the arrest of a bartender at the Derby Bar, where the victim’s body had been found on December 23, 1975. The coroner had discovered a four-inch skull fracture on the back of his head, among other wounds.

In the spring of 2002, Hermosillo’s granddaughter contacted San Jose police and asked them to reopen her grandfather’s case.

2002 investigators, Detective Sgt. Will Manion and Detective Enrique Garcia, reviewed the case file and were immediately drawn to a distinctive wound on the victim’s face. Further investigation revealed the mark had come from a neon beer sign that had been inside the Derby Bar, located at 13thand Washington streets.

That discovery, coupled with statements from an eyewitness who reported seeing Hermosillo fighting with the bartender on the night of his death, led investigators to conclude that Hermosillo died after being hit with a beer sign by bartender Jack Burns.

Burns died in February 2001, more than a year-and-a-half before the case was solved. Had he lived, police said at the time that he likely would have faced manslaughter charges.

The case fueled the fires in the San Jose PD’s homicide unit, which opened an additional 180 cold cases dating back as far as 1962. The city’s crime rates in 2002 were down, allowing officers to focus on older crimes.

“This year, we’ve actually been down in homicides and our guys have had time to do this,” Sgt. Steve Dixon, then spokesman for the SJPD, said at the time.

The detectives’ work on Hermosillo’s murder was featured on an episode of the A&E network show Cold Case Files.