DNA Forensic Files: 1970s Murder Cases Solved in 2019 #ColdCases #DNA

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Photo courtesy of bernews.com.

Over the past several years, the use of DNA and genetic genealogy to solve decades-old murder cases has grown dramatically. Combining cutting-edge technology with increased access to innumerable genetic databases, investigators are able to arrest killers who have roamed free for way too long.

Although most would agree that the resolution of these cases is a positive development, there is a negative aspect for some families. And that is – the memories of the brutal murder of a loved one are once again brought to light. Despite the resurrection of horrendous feelings of loss, the victims’ families are generally grateful for justice finally being served.

Here are two cold murder cases in which the investigation never ceased, and the killer was eventually identified.

Central Coast Murders

California’s Central Coast is a quaint, picturesque region located between the bustling areas of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Dotted with peaceful towns set against the backdrop of the state’s exquisite coastal landscape, this area is known for its relaxed vibe. Unfortunately, though, even the most tranquil areas are sometimes rocked by horror.

Although these murders took place over 40 years ago, the cases were only recently solved. The first murder occurred on November 17, 1977 in the sleepy town of Atascadero. The victim was a vibrant 30-old year woman named Jane Antunez. On that day, Jane was headed to her best friend’s house. The problem is, Jane never made it to her friend’s home. And was never seen alive again.

Jane’s dead body was found in the backseat of her car, just down the road from her house. She had been sexually assaulted, and her throat had been slashed.

Sadly, while the community was still grappling with the killing of Jane, the body of 28-year old Patricia Dwyer was found less than two months later. Found in her home with stab wounds to the chest, Patricia was also a victim of sexual assault.

After some careful investigating, the police determined that the murders were linked. And there primary suspect was Arthur Rudy Martinez. The investigation revealed that he was an ex-con who was new to the area. He had done prison time for rape and attempted murder. Police believe that Martinez had discovered the women at a nearby bar, which was a popular local hang out.

Even though the police were confident that Martinez was the killer, there was no direct evidence linking him to the murders. Martinez eventually left the area, and moved to Washington, where he again committed rape and was sentenced to life in prison.

In a shocking turn of events, Martinez escaped prison and lived under an assumed name for over 20 years in Fresno, California. Then, in April 2014, Martinez turned himself in to authorities (for the prison escape). This wasn’t an act of contrition. Rather, Martinez did this because he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and was looking for state funded healthcare.

Two months later, Martinez died in prison.

While all of this was happening, local police never gave up hope on solving the murders. Using an outside detective who specialized in cold cases and had significant experience with the nation’s many DNA databases, investigators found a familial match of the DNA secured from the original crime scenes. The match was from a California convicted felon who was related to Martinez.

Eventually, police tracked down an old girlfriend of Martinez, who provided investigators with a razor left behind by Martinez. And that razor resulted in an exact DNA match. Combining evidence gathered from 40 years ago coupled with witness testimony and the DNA match, the investigators found their killer. Although he was already dead, the police and the victims’ families had some closure.

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Photo courtesy of sfgate.com.

The El Dorado Killings

Nestled in California’s immaculately beautiful Sierra-Nevada Mountains, the county of El Dorado is generally known for its hiking, skiing and relaxed atmosphere. But the area is also known for the late 1970s unsolved murders of 16-year old Carol Andersen and 27-year old Brynn Rainey.

Anxious to finally solve these murders, as well as other unresolved cases, the local district attorney’s office set up a forensic task force in 2007. The goal was to solve the 60 cold cases that were haunting the community.

Fortunately, the task force was successful in resolving some of the county’s lingering cold cases. Namely, investigators were able to identify local real estate agent Joseph Holt as the killer who took the lives of Carol and Brynn.

By way of background, the events began in July 1977 when Brynn disappeared after leaving work around 2 a.m. at a casino in Nevada – just over the state line. About a month later, her naked body was found partially buried at a local equestrian center. Due to the decomposed nature of her body, police were unable to determine the exact cause of death.

Then, almost two years later, Carol vanished on her way home from a party at a local ski resort. Several hours later, her battered body was found on the side of the road. Investigators opined that she had been bound and strangled. Both victims had been sexually assaulted.

Holt was not a suspect during the initial investigation. There was no known connection between Holt and the victims. Investigators believe these murders were random and sexually motivated.

Utilizing evidence from the original crime scenes, investigators were able to match the two unknown DNA samples from both victims’ bodies. But this breakthrough didn’t happen until 2017. At this point, the police finally were able to connect the two murders. Unfortunately, the DNA did not get a match in any criminal databases, but it did find a match on a public genealogy database.

The familial DNA match led police to three deceased brothers, one of whom was Holt. Thereafter, police were able to locate Holt’s son, who then provided investigators with an old toothbrush. After 41 years, police found their killer.

The DNA from the toothbrush was an exact match of the DNA found on both victims’ bodies. Not only did police solve these two murders, but the investigation resulted in another police department solving a 1975 shooting of a delivery man. That’s right, Holt was responsible for that violent crime as well.

Although both of the victims’ mothers passed away before this case was solved, the remaining family members are grateful that they finally have an answer to the painful question which lingered for over 40 years.

 

The bittersweet resolution of these tragic events demonstrates that the pursuit of justice is relentless. Do you know of any recently solved cold cases?

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About jchasenovelist

Published thriller author, criminologist, and blogger.
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