Genetic Genealogy Justice: 2 Killers Arrested Decades Later

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Photo courtesy of independent.co.uk.

Killers be warned. You are no longer safe from the long arm of justice. Years may have passed since you committed your horrendous acts of violence. You may think that your evil deeds are a thing of the past. But, you’re wrong.

The dedicated women and men of law enforcement will not rest until you’re caught. And with the aid of seemingly innocuous genealogy databases – your wicked deeds are catching up to you.

Here are two killers who took innocent lives, and then went on to live somewhat normal existences. That is, until they were finally caught for their murders. And justice was rightfully served.

Justice for Linda O’Keefe…45 Years Later 

The Facts

On July 6, 1973, an 11-year old girl named Linda O’Keefe was walking home from summer school in Orange County, California. Linda was never seen alive again. One day after vanishing, Linda’s strangled, lifeless body was found in a ditch covered in weeds. Tragedy struck the O’Keefe family and the relatively peaceful, affluent area of Newport Beach.

Despite using every resource at their disposal, the police were unable to solve the killing.

Generations of law enforcement personnel worked on the case. But eventually, the case went cold.

Cold Case Heats Up

As technology evolves, so do police methods. So, within the last few years, the local Orange County police began re-investigating cold murder cases. And Linda’s murder was a high priority. Even though DNA evidence was left at the original crime scene, the appropriate technology was not available until decades later.

Police, of course, searched criminal DNA databases for a match. But this method only works when the suspect has been arrested for other crimes. In Linda’s case, law enforcement had no luck in finding a match. Apparently, the killer was able to maintain a low profile. Well, that all changed in January of this year.

The Suspect is Identified

For many years, law enforcement had a rough sketch of the man who they believed committed the murder. But, by the time sufficient DNA technology was available, the sketch was quite outdated – considering the man would now be 45 years older than at the time of the killing.

This past January, investigators found relatives of the suspect on the public website FamilyTreeDNA.com. Using their old sketch of a 27-year-old man, they narrowed the suspect field down to just one person – James Alan Neal. Police determined that he lived in the area at the time of the murder.

And using standard surveillance and other investigative techniques, police were able to acquire further DNA samples from Neal. The case was solid.

So, on February 19, 2019, police arrested 72-year old Neal, who was charged with murder, kidnapping and various other crimes.

Who is James Alan Neal

At the time of his arrest, the killer resided in Colorado with his wife of over 40 years. A father, grandfather and great-grandfather, Neal is a retired construction worker who led a seemingly normal existence as a family man. Yet, beneath the surface of his good guy facade, lurked a monster who had been running from justice since 1973.

The Outcome of Excellent Police Work

According to the office of Orange County’s District Attorney, the charges brought against Neal carry a minimum sentence of life without parole, with the death penalty remaining a possibility. Since his arrest, the killer has had other child sexual assault charges brought against him in neighboring Riverside County.

Utilizing time-tested police investigative techniques, coupled with modern DNA technology and community awareness alerts on social media, law enforcement was able to apprehend this monster 45 years after he took the life on an innocent child.

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Murder in Alaska…Caught in Maine

The Facts

On April 26, 1993, Sophie Sergie was discovered dead in a dorm bathtub on the campus of University of Alaska. She had been stabbed, shot and sexually assaulted. Sophie was a former student at the university and was simply visiting a friend for the weekend. She left her friend’s dorm room at around 9pm to smoke a cigarette and was never seen alive again.

The next day, janitors discovered her bruised and battered body. Drawing much media attention, this case was exhaustively investigated for years, but police kept coming up short. No arrests were made. And the case went cold.

A Break Comes 17 Years Later

For the next decade and a half, the case was considered cold, but every so-often the police uncovered a new lead or were provided a tip by the public. To that end, investigators got a huge break in 2010.

In 2010, the police interviewed a man named Nicholas Dazer, who was a security guard that resided in the dorm where the murder occurred. Dazer had been fired for keeping a gun in his dorm room – a .22 caliber. The bullet recovered in Sophie’s body was fired from a .22 caliber handgun.

Dazer adamantly denied ever owning such a gun. Rather, he told police that the gun belonged to his roommate, Steven Downs. And that Downs owned other guns.

Suspect is Identified

DNA taken from the crime scene was tested in the late 1990s and again in 2000. But no matches were ever found in any state or federal databases. But, in 2018, a new Alaskan State Trooper was assigned to the case, and his first order of business was to submit the DNA sample to public genealogy websites. And voila! They had a familial match.

A relative of the suspect was found – it was the killer’s aunt who led police to his door. It turns out that the killer was none other than Steven Downs, the alleged owner of a .22 caliber gun.

Who is Steven Downs

Sophie’s killer had been born on the other side of the country in Maine but had attended the University of Alaska from 1992-1996. The murder took place in 1993.

Since Downs had never been arrested, his DNA was not accessible through standard law enforcement databases. Investigators uncovered that Downs had been living in Maine for most of his adult life and had been working as a registered nurse.

Alaska and Maine police worked together in securing a fresh DNA sample from the suspect. It was a perfect match. Downs was arrested on February 15, 2019 for the murder of Sophie.

Status of His Case

After his arrest in Maine, Downs was held in jail pending extradition to Alaska. The killer, however, fought his extradition for the next several months. Denying that he was the killer, Downs argued that extradition was a violation of his rights.

Eventually, Downs realized that the evidence against him was overwhelming, so he gave up his extradition fight in May of this year. He was transferred to the Alaskan authorities. He now awaits trial for the murder of an innocent young woman.

Although the circumstances surrounding these cases are tragic, it is encouraging to see law enforcement’s seemingly endless pursuit of justice. Are you aware of any similar cases solved in your area?

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About jchasenovelist

Published thriller author, criminologist, and blogger.
This entry was posted in Forensic, unsolved mysteries and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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