Thanksgiving Forensics: 2 Killers Finally Brought to Justice

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Photo courtesy of suno.edu.

Thanksgiving is the time of the year when many of us show our gratitude for life’s blessings. For some people, however, this holiday is just another reminder of a horrific memory that never relents. And that haunting recollection is the unsolved murder of a loved one.

But, despite all of the pain and horror that has consumed their lives for many years – there is always a glimmer of hope that the killer will be brought to justice.

Through the combined efforts of dedicated law enforcement personnel and the marvels of modern forensic science, these cold case murders are now finally solved. Which means – the victims’ family members can at least experience this Thanksgiving with the knowledge that justice has somewhat been served.

The Sock that Solved a Murder

In a wooded area on the outskirts of Philadelphia, the body of Denise Kulb was found on November 12, 1991. It had been nearly a month since Denise went missing, and her family members had already feared the worst.

When her body was discovered, Denise was wearing only a sweater. But, in addition, someone had placed a pile of her own clothes on top of Denise’s body. The clothing pile included two pairs of pants, a T-shirt, a jacket and importantly – one yellow sock.

Denise had a history of drug abuse, prostitution and other legal problems, including losing two of her children to foster care. But, many in her family saw a noticeable improvement in her life after she moved in with her boyfriend, Theodore Dill Donahue.

But her positive life change was fleeting. In fact, she moved out of the apartment within a few weeks. And Denise began to work the streets again. On the night of her disappearance, she was last seen arguing outside a bar with Donahue.

Of course, after she went missing, the boyfriend became a prime suspect. Donahue relied on Denise’s checkered past as a way to discredit her and bolster his claim that a “John” must have killed her.

Despite investigators’ gut feelings that he was the killer, the evidence against Donahue was weak, so they were unable to arrest him. But, the police never gave up on the suspect, who proudly (and strangely) told people that his nickname was “Ted Bundy.” (Oddly, his email address was also Bundy’s name.)

The case went dormant until around 2015, and that is when the yellow sock became a crucial piece of evidence. Weirdly, as mentioned above – Denise’s body was discovered with one yellow sock lying on top of her.

Police, eventually though, discovered the “other” yellow sock in Donahue’s apartment. Utilizing the power of forensic photography experts, the police were able to definitively confirm that the sock found on top of Denise’s body was an exact match to the one found in Donahue’s apartment.

After confirming that the socks were a match, investigators looked into the many inconsistencies of Donahue’s ever-evolving statements of what occurred in and around the time of the murder.  All of the evidence gathered directly linked Donahue to the murder. This led to Donahue being arrested about 2 months ago for a killing that occurred almost 20 years prior. An amazing job by law enforcement to have never given up on securing justice for Denise.

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Photo courtesy of science.unctv.org.

Bone Evidence Leads to Killer

In 1972, on Thanksgiving Day in the Southern California city of Torrance, the Hollis family frantically called police. Why? Because their 11-year old daughter Terri-Lynn went out for a bike ride, but never returned.

The next day, Terri-Lynn’s body was found by some fisherman about 50 miles north on the rocky shores of the Ventura County coastline.

Despite numerous leads, as well as the arrest – and eventual release – of an admitted sex offender, there were no convictions. The case went cold about 2 years after the killing.

Then, in 2000, the police revisited the matter.

After reopening the case, investigators discovered a DNA swab that had been taken from Terri-Lynn’s body around the time that she was found in Ventura. The DNA sample was sent to the Los Angeles County Crime Lab for testing.  Six years of random testing resulted in no match being found in the federal Combined DNA Index System.

The case went cold – again.

Not giving up just yet, investigators tried once again in 2015. At that time, the DNA was sent to a Virginia-based genetic genealogy lab for testing. Three years passed and still no match. Then, in 2018, investigators had a major breakthrough. The genetic testing led police to a potential relative of the person whose DNA was found on Terri-Lynn’s body.

Relying on the test results, the police located the suspect’s relative. That led investigators to discover the identity of the suspect – Jake Edward Brown. The killer was 36 at the time of the murder and, in the passing years, he had died and was buried in Arizona.

In an effort to finally resolve this almost 50-year old cold case, Arizona police exhumed the body of Brown. After removing his body, the suspect’s remains were sent to a Florida-based lab for analysis by forensic experts specializing in bones.

Investigators had an exact match. They found their killer.

Torrance police officially announced – in September 2019 – that the killer was found, and the case was closed.

Although nothing can heal the wounds inflicted on the families of the victims, there is a sense of closure that investigators have provided. And without the tireless efforts of law enforcement and forensic scientists, these cold murder cases would have never been solved. 

Are there any cold murder cases in your area that have recently garnered attention?

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About jchasenovelist

Published thriller author, criminologist, and blogger.
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