10 Cold Cases That Saw Big Breaks in 2020
The U.S. has 250,000 unsolved murders, a number that increases by about 6,000 each year, according to the FBI's Uniformed Crime Report data. But in recent years, there has been a glimmer of hope for the loved ones of cold case victims.
There are murders that go unsolved every day. Innocent people who have been kidnapped, sexually assaulted and violently murdered, receive no justice as their killers remain at large for decades, with some even going on to commit more heinous acts.
The U.S. currently has 250,000 unsolved murders, a number that increases by about 6,000 each year, according to the FBI's Uniformed Crime Report data. Unsolved cases mean mounting caseloads, which drain resources and result in higher costs for agencies with limited budgets, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
But in recent years, there has been a glimmer of hope for the loved ones of cold case victims. Cold cases are heating up thanks to advances in DNA technology combined with meticulous detective work that have given investigators, in some cases, that “one” break they needed.
Law enforcement officials work with laboratories that specialize in this technology to find genetic matches between DNA collected at crime scenes and DNA testing results found on genetic genealogy sites. Othram, a private lab in Houston that works exclusively with law enforcement, converts “evidence to answers" and tests tiny samples of DNA to come up with a full genetic profile of a suspect, NBC5 News-Dallas/FortWorth reported.
“We take terrible evidence that other labs don’t want to mess with,” said Othram’s founder, David Mittleman. “It’s a terrible burden that you feel when you’re helping folks solve a case that’s been unsolved for decades. It felt amazing.”
This was exactly how police finally nabbed the Golden State Killer, who investigators identified as Joseph James DeAngelo, and charged him with 13 murders and nearly 50 rapes in a crime spree that began in the 1970s, Inside Edition Digital reported.
Investigators used a DNA sample that had been found at the scene of a double murder in Ventura, California in 1980. They were able to match the sample to distant relatives of DeAngelo on a genealogy website. At his hearing in June, DeAngelo pleaded guilty to 13 counts of first-degree murder. He took a plea deal that saved him from the death penalty. Instead, he received 11 consecutive life sentences.
According to The New York Times, the Golden State Killer was the first high-profile case to be cracked with genetic genealogy. But it hasn't been the last.
Since 2018, police forces in the United States have been able to identify suspects in at least 28 cold case murder and rape cases with the help of DNA testing, GEDmatch, and genetic genealogy, according to reports.
Below are 10 cold cases to have seen breaks in 2020.
1. The Killing of Jody Loomis
Victim: Jody Loomis, 20, was raped and shot in the head, according to authorities.
Date of Crime: Aug. 23, 1972
Suspect: Terrence Miller
Details of Case: Loomis was riding her bicycle on her way to the stable to see her horse when she was viciously attacked, according to investigators. A couple out target shooting found her partially clothed body in a wooded area off what is now Mill Creek Road. Semen was found on her body, and on her boot heel.
For nearly 50 years, Miller, 78, evaded investigators in the alleged killing of Loomis.
DNA evidence taken from Walker’s body and clothing was preserved for decades and recently submitted for genetic genealogy identification and a connection was found to an Edmonds family member with seven siblings, including Miller, the Seattle Times reported.
Miller’s DNA collected from a discarded coffee cup from a casino matched that of the semen collected from Loomis’ boots, according to Snohomish County Investigations Captain Rob Palmer.
In 2019, Miller was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty and was released on $1 million bail. Miller had reportedly been accused of sex crimes at least five times since the 1960s, the Seattle Times reported.
Hours before a jury convicted him of murder, Miller killed himself, authorities said.
2. The Killing of Carla Jan Walker
Victim: Carla Jan Walker, 17, a high school cheerleader from Fort Worth was allegedly raped, drugged and strangled, according to authorities.
Date of Crime: Sept. 20, 1974
Suspect: Glen Samuel McCurley
Details of Case: Rodney McCoy was on the football team and Walker was a cheerleader. Prior to the deadly attack, the pair had gone to a Valentine’s Day dance and had been sitting together in McCoy’s car in a parking lot of a bowling alley. McCurley suddenly appeared and forced Walker out of the car. McCoy had been knocked unconscious with a the suspects gun. When he finally woke he ran to get help.
Three days later, Walker’s body was found in a culvert. Police said she had been beaten, raped, strangled and tortured for two days after her disappearance. The medical examiner ruled that the killer injected her with morphine, reported NBCDFW5 News.
Detectives said clothing and a bra worn by Walker on the night she was killed was sent to a private lab that uncovered genetic identities. A full DNA profile of a potential suspect had been developed using this new process, reported the news station.
Investigators said McCurley had been a person of interest in the initial investigation, but at the time said they had no evidence to connect him to the slaying. McCurley had denied any involvement in Walker's death or abduction. Detectives did not again pursue McCurley following the 1974 interview until the DNA profile match was found in GedMatch.
In September, McCurley provided a DNA sample that was taken to a lab for analysis and less than a week later was matched to the DNA found on Walker’s bra, NBC5 reported.
In September, McCurley, 77, was indicted by a grand jury on a capital murder charge in connection with Walker’s brutal murder.
According to Fort Worth police detectives, McCurley had led a relatively normal life, was married and had two children and was not involved in any other crimes, the news station reported.
He is currently being held in lieu of $500,000 bail at the Tarrant County Jail, according to online records.
McCurley’s attorney Steve Miears said his client has entered a plea of not guilty.
“Due to COVID, I don’t foresee any court dates for a while,” he told Inside Edition Digital. “The investigation done by the police is quite extensive and will take a while to review.”
3. The Killing of Cynthia Miller
Victim: Cynthia Miller, 27, a well-loved teacher from Raleigh County, was fatally shot one day before she was set to wed her fiance.
Date of Crime: Aug. 26, 1981
Suspect: Earl James Robbins
Location: West Virginia
Details of Case: Investigators said Earl James Robbins shot and killed Miller inside home on Miller Street in Beckley on Aug. 26, 1981. Miller's body was discovered by her fiance, a Lester Police Department officer, when he arrived at her home. The couple was set to be wed the following day, WCHS-TV reported.
In 2017, officials in the area put together a cold case task force and the case of Miller's killing was one of the first the began looking at. Earl James Robbins, 64, had been serving a life sentence in a California prison for other violent crimes when he was charged in Miller's death.
Police would not go into details about Robbins' potential relationship to Miller.
"Mr. Robbins was known at that time, he was a person in the original file that we spoke to, but I can't get in to any more detail than that," Sgt. Morgan Bragg of the Beckley Police Department said, calling that question one that for now is best not answered, WCHS reported.
"I've not heard a cross word or a bad thing about Cynthia Miller," Bragg said. "She was just such a good clean, honest, innocent victim."
In November, Robbins appeared in court for his arraignment. He pleaded not guilty to all five counts with which he had been charged, including first-degree murder and use of a firearm, WOAY reported.
Robbins is currently serving a life sentence in Valley State Prison in California for charges of abduction, kidnapping and first-degree sexual assault of a minor, which occurred in 1980, the news outlet reported.
Asst. Raleigh County Prosecutor Brian Parsons told Inside Edition Digital that they are in the process of extraditing Earl James Robbins to West Virginia for the trial in Miller's killing. “Until he is arraigned there is no trial date yet. Not until the extradition process is complete,” he said.
4. The Case of Jennifer Watkins
Victim: Jennifer Watkins, 23, was sexually assaulted and died of blunt force trauma to the head, authorities said
Date of Crime: Nov. 6, 1999
Suspect: Ricky Severt
Details of Case: Watkins’ husband reported her missing when she failed to show up at her mother’s house to pick up their two children, authorities said.
Two days later, her body was discovered under a stairwell in an area of the hospital under construction by two elevator personnel who noticed a “distinctive smell." Watkins’ body was “wrapped in plastic and bound with duct tape," officials said. The coroner’s office revealed that she died of blunt force trauma to the head and that she had been sexually assaulted. Semen and DNA were found at the scene. Her death was ruled a homicide, according to a police statement.
What Happened Next: DNA and genetic genealogy helped lead police to the alleged killer, who died in a car accident nearly two decades ago, officials said.
Severt, who was 29 at the time of Watkins' murder, worked in the maintenance department at the Colorado Springs Hospital since April 1998. According to detectives, Severt was part of the initial homicide investigation and when interviewed by detectives he told them he was working on a swing shift the day Watkins disappeared and denied having seen her before.
On Nov. 2, 2001, Severt was killed in a traffic accident on Highway 94, just east of Colorado Springs, officials said.
CBI conducted an analysis of familial DNA collected from surviving relatives of Severt to determine that 99.99994% of the population could be excluded. Severt could not be excluded, police said in the release.
On Oct. 1, 2020, the case was sent to the Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office for review. And in December, officials determined that Severt was the person responsible for Watkins' murder.
5. The Killing of Lisa Holstead
Victim: Lisa Holstead, 22, was strangled, according to authorities.
Date of Crime: Aug. 12,1986
Suspect: Lou Archie Griffin
Details of Case: Lisa Holstead disappeared on Aug. 12, 1986. A few hours later, her body was found in a swamp in what is now Ken Eures Nature Park in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Holstead had died from strangulation, the Associated Press reported. She had reportedly lived only a few miles from where she was found.
NBC23 reported that Holstead’s boyfriend, Lou Archie Griffin, was the last person to see her before she disappeared. According to investigators, Griffin had a pattern of violence. He was once convicted of second-degree assault of a child. And, three months before Holstead’s death, he has been released from prison, CBS58 News reported.
Griffin, now 65, was charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the death of Holstead. In October, he was arrested and taken to Brown County Jail. His cash bond has been set at $1 million and he is being held pending additional court proceedings.
He has not entered a plea yet. His arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 8, 2021 at 8:45 a.m., court records show. If convicted of the charge he faces, he can face life in prison.
6. The Killing of Sherry Black
Victim: Sherry Black, 64, was beaten and stabbed to death inside her book store, B&W Billiards and Books in South Salt Lake, Utah.
Date of Crime: Nov. 30, 2010
Suspect: Adam Durborow
Details of Case: Sherry Black’s husband Earl found her body. According to investigators, a motive for the murder had never been discovered. The only physical piece of evidence investigators had was an Armani Exchange men’s belt found at the crime scene with a 36- to 38-inch waist and a sticker on the back of the buckle with the number “323,” as well as blood that was collected inside the store.
In 2017, police started using new DNA technology to develop a profile of the suspect, KUTV reported.
In October 2020, DNA was collected from Adam Durborow and submitted to the Utah Bureau of Forensic Services. One day later, it was confirmed that Durburow’s DNA matched the DNA collected from Black's bookstore nearly a decade ago, KUTV News reported.
In November, Durburow was charged with first-degree felony aggravated murder. Salt Lake City District Attorney Sam Gill said Black's cause of death was multiple blunt force trauma and sharp wounds to her body. There was also evidence of a post-mortem sexual assault, Gill reportedly said.
While in custody, Durburow allegedly confessed to the killing, the police affidavit obtained by KUTV News said. He will face first-degree felony aggravated burglary charges, KUTV News reported.
Durborow was booked into Salt Lake County Jail for investigation of aggravated murder and aggravated burglary, according to a police affidavit. He is being held without bail.
7. The Killing of Wendy Jerome
Victim: Wendy Jerome, 14, was raped and murdered.
Date of Crime: Nov. 22, 1984
Suspect: Timothy Williams
Details of Case: Wendy was last seen on Thanksgiving in 1984. She had left the house that night to deliver a birthday card to a friend who lived nearby, and was supposed to be home by curfew about an hour later, The New York Times reported.
Barely three hours later, her body was found behind a school just a quarter-mile from her house. She had been raped and beaten to death.
Then in September, investigators announced that by using familial DNA, an arrest had been made in the teen's killing. Timothy Williams was arrested at his home in Melbourne, Florida on Sept. 9 and charged with murder, officials said.
No other details about Williams were released, except that he and Wendy lived near each other at the time of her killing, but did not know each other.
Williams, now 56, was arraigned and is awaiting extradition to New York. He is being held in Monroe County Jail. He has pleaded not guilty, his attorney, Donald Thompson, told Inside Edition Digital.
His next virtual hearing is scheduled for Jan. 4, 2021 at 10 a.m. His trail date is set for June 7, 2020.
8. The Killing of Kimberly Ratliff
Victim: Kimberly Ratliff was just 22 when her throat was slashed in a brutal killing that went unsolved for more than 20 years, according to authorities.
Date of Crime: Jan. 12, 1999
Suspect: Matthew Kennedy
Details of Case: Kimberly was Matthew Kennedy’s stepsister. At the time of her death, she has been living with her mother, Joyce, and stepfather, Leslie "Les" Kennedy, according to the Omaha World-Herald. Kimberly, her mother and Matthew all worked together at Airlite Plastic Co. in Omaha, the outlet reported.
Her body had been found in the front seat of her car with her throat slashed, according to Omaha World-Herald.
Investigators said they believe Kimberly was murdered at another location, noting that little blood was found in the car, nwestiowa reported. Ratliff was reportedly last seen four days earlier.
Matthew Kennedy, 52, had been living in Montana when he was arrested in October. He has been charged with first-degree murder, officials said.
On Dec. 18, court records obtained by the Daily Nonpariel showed Jill Eimermann, an attorney representing the Defense Unit of the State of Iowa’s Public Defenders Office, filed a written not guilty plea on behalf of Kennedy in Pottawattamie County Court.
9. The Murder of Dilcia Mejia
Victim: Dilcia Mejia, 16, was fatally stabbed in her neck.
Date of Crime: Sept. 16, 2004
Suspect: Raul Mata
Details of Case: Dilcia was allegedly killed by her stepfather. A slash wound was found on her neck. The last time Dilica was seen alive was on Sept. 16, 2004, when she was watching television around 11 p.m. at the mobile home she shared with her mother and Mata, CBS4 Miami reported.
According to police, Dilcia’s mother never checked in on her daughter when she left for work on the morning of Sept. 17 at 5:30 a.m. A few hours later, police received a call from Mata, who said he had just gotten home and discovered Meija’s body with a slash wound on her neck. Mata was questioned and he denied any involvement in the death. The Medical Examiner’s office ruled it a homicide, however, no arrest was made at the time.
In the early part of 2020, an anonymous tip came in, which led investigators to reopen the case. Investigators learned that Dilicia had a strained relationship with her stepfather.
In an arrest affidavit, Mata’s DNA was found on Mejia’s fingernails, scratches and bruises were found on his left forearm and inner bicep. The affidavit also said investigators told Mata that they had learned that a school counselor was on the verge of telling Mejia’s mother that Mata had made inappropriate advances to her, CBSMiami reported.
Mata, 46, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of his stepdaughter Dilcia Mejia, whose life was taken just five days after her 16th birthday.
Investigators located Mata in California, where he was arrested. He took his own life in while in custody in October.
10. The Killing of Kelly Ann Prosser
Victim: Kelly Ann Prosser was just 8 when she was beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled.
Date of Crime: September 1982
Suspect: Harold Warren Jarrell
Details of Case: For nearly 40 years, no one knew what happened to Prosser, who was kidnapped as she walked home from Indianola elementary school. According to case details from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Prosser had been beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled. Her body was discovered two days later in a Plain City cornfield.
In 1977, Harold Warren Jarrell was charged and convicted with abducting a different 8-year-old girl from Tamarack Circle, on the north side of Columbus. He was released in January 1982, eight months before Kelly-Anne’s abduction, said police, reported CNN.
The case was deemed one of the police departments “most intense investigations,”
Jarrell has since died, but police were able to crack the case using samples of his living relatives' DNA. Investigators said they are certain he was behind Prosser's killing.
Columbus Deputy Police Chief Greg Bodker said during a news conference earlier this year he was grateful to finally close the case that he once described as one of the department's “most intense investigations,” the Associated Press reported.
"It was a case that throughout the years all of CPD wanted to solve, and a case that affected all personnel on a personal level,” said Bodker. “Imagine in 1982 collecting something that you didn’t know would one day exist — DNA.”
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