Austin man arrested in 1979 cold case murder of newlywed

Crime

AUSTIN (KXAN) — New DNA evidence that was recently tested in a cold case murder nearly four decades old has helped detectives “positively link” a 64-year-old Austin man to the crime.

On Thursday, a Travis County grand jury indicted Michael Anthony Galvan on one count of capital murder and one count of murder in the death of Debra Sue Reiding.

He has been booked into the Travis County Jail with bond set at $750,000. 

Reiding was 18 years old when she was found dead in her apartment on Algarita Avenue in south Austin on Jan. 22, 1979. 

Reiding and her husband, Robert, were newlyweds originally from Montana. Robert found his wife’s body still in their bed when he came home from work the evening of Jan. 22. Investigators found evidence she’d been sexually assaulted and strangled. According to a search warrant, Reiding’s body had been covered in blankets and bedding. She was bound and gagged.

Looking through the original case files, Detective Jeff Gabler realized Galvan, who was always a person of interest, was never ruled out as a possible suspect. He was 25 years old at the time of the crime.

The file noted Galvan worked at the same restaurant, the Montana Mining Company, as Reiding—where she was a hostess—and would give her rides home. 

The day after the murder, Reiding’s co-worker denied knowing the victim and ever being in her apartment, but detectives learned he had been there at least twice, the affidavit for the search warrant says.

At the time, there was not sufficient evidence to charge him in relation to the crime. Last summer, Galvan’s DNA was tested against semen stains found on a robe Reiding was wearing at the time of her death. The Austin Police Department says the DNA “positively link him to the crime.” 

Records show Galvan lives in south Austin. His neighbors say he always kept to himself. Some said he seemed to disappear recently, saying they hadn’t seen him in the past few months.

I”ve always been hopeful’

“I’ve always been hopeful,” said Reiding’s younger brother, Rodney Wilt, despite waiting decades for an arrest. “I’ve always known the person of interest needed to be pursued.”

Wilt says after working with nearly a dozen different detectives over the years, he and his family are ecstatic to see Galvan behind bars.

“After I’ve worked on this for so many years, it’s just now finally starting to sink in that it might actually be coming to a close,” Wilt said. “My whole life has been dedicated to getting to the bottom of this and letting my sister rest in peace.”

Wilt says his father passed away in 1998, but would have been thrilled to see an arrest. Wilt says he and his 82-year-old mother are making their yearly trip to Choteau, Montana this weekend to visit his father and sister’s graves. He says his mother is in poor health but is elated to see the day that some progress was made in her daughter’s case.

“My mother, she’s so happy,” Wilt said, adding that as the case moves forward, “I hope they take it to the severest penalty.”

Detectives say they’ll release more information about the cold case in a press conference on Tuesday. Wilt says he and his mother were invited to be with detectives at the press conference, but they won’t be able to make it down from Montana, because his mother is in poor health. Other family members are set to be there to thank detectives.

Timeline 

Jan. 22, 1979 at 6:50 a.m.: Robert Reiding left his apartment for work

Jan. 22, 1979 at 11 a.m.: Debra Reiding was due to be at her work at this time

Jan. 22, 1979 at 5:40 p.m.: Robert Reiding returned home and found Debra dead

Jan. 23 and Feb. 1, 1979: Evidence from crime scene submitted to TXDPS for analysis

Spring of 2013: Cold case gets new detective

April 15, 2013: TXDPS says much of the evidence is suitable for DNA testing

April 28, 2013: APD conducted surveillance on Galvan while he was a restaurant and proceeded to seize toothpicks he used for DNA testing.

July 31, 2017: Search warrant signed to get a DNA sample from Galvan which was used to compared with the evidence from the crime scene.

Debra Reiding and her new husband, Robert, in their wedding photo, taken two months before Reiding was found dead in her Austin apartment in 1979. (KXAN/Chris Davis)

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