For more than three decades, the death of 14-year-old California girl has haunted her family and the detectives tasked with finding her killer.
On the evening of November 15, 1982, De Anna Lynn Johnson went to a party just doors down from her Vacaville home on Royal Oaks Drive.
It was the last time her family would see her alive, as the girl remembered as vibrant, passionate and beautiful never made it home.
When it reached past midnight and De Anna still hadn’t returned from the party, her mother, Ginger Dimpel reported her missing.
Hours later, her body was discovered in a nearby field by a railroad worker. She had been bludgeoned to death.
Investigators immediately went to work, talking to the teens and young adults who attended the get-together that fateful November night, but party goers’ recollections of the night were “somewhat confused” by alcohol and drug use, police said.
The case eventually went cold, but detectives never stopped investigating, and on Wednesday, they announced they had finally nabbed the man they believe responsible for De Anna’s death.
Marvin Markle, 51, was arrested Tuesday after the Solano County District Attorney’s office granted an arrest warrant in the young teen’s murder, police said.
Markle, who was already serving 80 years to life at Kern Valley State Prison for another killing, was established early on in the investigation into De Anna’s death as a suspect, officials said.
“We’d have loved to have solved this 34 years ago, but cases aren’t necessarily given to us with all the evidence we need at the time and so we had to be patient,” Vacaville Police Chief John Carli told reporters Wednesday. “So through all that patience and perseverance, what may have been a cold case has been investigated intensely for the last 15 years.”
Authorities declined to detail how Markle was allegedly linked to De Anna’s death, but said a large amount of evidence had been collected in the 34 years since the killing.
“It’s not one piece of evidence that turned this case. It’s just pieces of the puzzle,” said Vacaville Police Lt. Matt Lydon, who has worked on the case since 2002.
Investigators believe Markle, who was 17 at the time of the murder, and De Anna both attended the party and spoke at some point.
They were not friends and had not been in a relationship, Lydon said, noting Markle has “always been the prime suspect.”
Markle’s arrest brought closure to those who have waited for answers and for justice, officials said.
“I grew up in Vacaville and I remember what this case meant to the community — then and now,” said Lydon, whose voice shook with emotion as he spoke.
“Today is a day that De Anna’s family thought would never come. But here we are today, about to seek justice for our daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin, and I see some friends out there, too,” her mother, Ginger Dimpel, said.
“She was taken from us at the age of 14, 34 years ago, at the hands of a vicious, cowardly murderer. Her family friends and the entire community never gave up on seeking justice for her. We thank them for that,” she continued. “It has been a long, hard and emotional struggle to face each day of the 34 years while De Anna’s murderer has walked free and lived life.
“We miss her very much. We rely on happy memories and live on knowing that De Anna believed in God because of rainbows, but we believe in God because of De Anna.”
In 2004, Vacaville police learned that Markle was a suspect in death of Shirley Ann Pratt, a Butte County woman whose body was found on October 12, 2001. The 41-year-old woman had been fatally shot.
The two law enforcement offices were in constant communication throughout their investigations, Lydon said.
He was arrested in Pratt’s murder in July 2013 and was convicted a year later. He was sentenced to 80 years to life in prison.
Pratt's family was very happy to learn of Markle's arrest in connection to De Anna's death, they said in a statement, according to KHSL-TV reporter Cecile Juliette.
"We have held this case very close to our hearts since we learned of its connection our case. When we received justice for our loved one (Shirley Pratt) who was robbed from us by this same coward, the battle for justice had only just begun. It would not be over for us until De Anna Lynn Johnson too had her day in court. So today, we stand united and cry many tears of happiness for her family, friends and supporters," the statement said.
Markle now faces one felony count of murder in De Anna's killing.
Because he was underage at the time of the murder, Markle’s first hearing will take place Thursday in juvenile court, but the case will probably be transferred to Solano County Superior Court, Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams said.
He faces one felony count of murder. If convicted, Markle’s new sentence will be added to his current term, Abrams said.
"This young child lost her life over nothing... there should be accountability," Abrams said.