DNA Justice in 2017: 3 Cold Case Murders Solved by Forensics


Photo courtesy of nbcphiladelphia.com

Justice eluded these murder victims for many years. But, due to the hard work of detectives, and advancements in DNA analysis – the killers were identified. And justice was served.

The Killing of Wendy Jo Halison

It was 1968 on a quiet Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles. A 22-year old art student named Wendy Jo Halison parked her car on a busy street. And then ran some errands. Halison finished shopping, got into her car and then filled up the gas tank.

The young woman was never seen alive again. A day after she went missing, Halison’s body was found stuffed into the trunk of her car.

Police determined that she was the victim of a sexual assault. Evidence was gathered. And, based on the strangulation that caused her death, law enforcement was convinced the murder was done by someone who knew her well.

So, the men in her life were all questioned. And released. No one was arrested for Halison’s murder.

The case went cold.

Then, after nearly 48 years, a break in the case finally emerged.

After the LAPD revisited the file, detectives discovered semen on Halison’s clothing. They ran a DNA test. And then drew blood from the four main suspects – the men who knew her well prior to the killing. All four men were cleared.

Detectives then expanded their search to national databases. They found the killer – Edwin Dean Richardson. A man who had a criminal record dating back to his childhood. Thirteen years after Halison’s death, Richardson was arrested in Ohio for the murder of another woman.

After digging deeper, it appeared that Richardson may have been a serial killer, who targeted young, attractive brunettes.

By the time the LAPD had enough evidence to indict the killer, Richardson had already been dead about four years.

Oregon Murder

On March 9, 1979, Janie Landers disappeared. At the time, she was an 18-year old resident at the Fairview Training Center for the developmentally disabled in Salem, Oregon. Five days later, her mutilated and severely stabbed body was found in a nearby remote field.

Petite, and functioning at the level of an 8-year old child, Landers was last seen entering a stranger’s car. All the leads wound up being dead ends. No one was ever arrested.

Landers’ younger sister consistently pushed for the case to be revisited. And, over the course of the next 30 years, the case was revisited on several occasions. But, the murder was never solved.

Then, in March 2015, the case was given to a detective in the Major Crimes unit of the state police. It was his very first cold case. After he and some colleagues examined photos of the victim’s wounds, they determined that the suspect may have injured themselves while stabbing Landers.

Detectives then examined the shirt worn by the victim. Fortunately, the shirt was stored properly, so the DNA evidence remained viable. They ran the DNA analysis findings through the FBI’s database. The killer was found – Gerald Dunlap.

Dunlap worked in the laundry room at Fairview at the time of the killing. Investigators uncovered that the facility where Landers was a resident had been closed in 2000 due to allegations of rampant abuse. They also discovered that the killer had been convicted of rape in 1961, and sexual abuse of a family member in 1996.

Although they found the killer. It was too late. In 2002, Dunlap died in prison.


Photo courtesy of nbcnews.com

The Murder of Righteous Brothers’ Former Wife Karen Sue Klaas

On January 30, 1976, Karen Sue Klaas was found barely alive at her home in Hermosa Beach, California. Klaas was sexually assaulted, and strangled with her own pantyhose. She was in a coma for the next five days, and then passed away in the hospital.

Klaas was a 32-year old mother. And the former wife of singer Bill Medley, who  was part of the famed duo – the Righteous Brothers. Although the police had several leads during the initial investigation. No suspect was ever arrested. The case went cold for over 40 years.

The man who was eventually determined to be the killer, had been one of the initial suspects. His name is Kenneth Troyer, and he had allegedly committed two sexual assaults in the area near Klaas’ home.

Troyer, however, was able to allude justice for her death. But, several years after the murder, Troyer was convicted of armed robbery. After being sent to maximum security prison in the Central Coast of California, he escaped.

Troyer headed south, and was on the lam in Orange County before being shot dead by police.

Almost 41 years after Klaas’ death, police were still determined to see if Troyer was, in fact, the killer. So, they used a rather controversial technique called “familial DNA.” Essentially, the technique is used to find “close to perfect” matches among relatives of a convict.

One of Troyer’s relatives had been locked up years prior, and at that time – DNA evidence was extracted from the relative. Police matched the Klaas crime scene DNA to the DNA from Troyer’s relative. It was a match. Troyer was the killer.

The Klaas murder was the longest open murder case in the history of Hermosa Beach. Finally, Klaas’ relatives found a little justice.

It’s truly amazing how dedicated these police departments and family members were in their pursuit of justice. Do you know of any fascinating solved cold cases that should be included on this list?

Click on more articles that might be of interest:


The Future of Forensics: 5 Cutting Edge Techniques

8 Key Traits of Highly Effective Detectives

10 Common Traits of Career Criminals


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About jchasenovelist

Published thriller author, criminologist, and blogger.
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