Arrest Made in Cold Case Killing of Grandma After Detective Continues Investigation, Despite Being Laid Off

67-year-old grandmother Mary Lindgren had been living in a Covina retirement home at the time of her 1996 murder.
67-year-old grandmother Mary Lindgren had been living in a Covina retirement home at the time of her 1996 murder. (LASD)

An arrest has been made in the 1996 cold case murder of grandmother Mary Lindgren, a stroke victim who was living at a California retirement home when she was beaten and raped, thanks to a Los Angeles County Sheriff Department detective who continued to work on the case even after budget cuts caused him to lose his job, officials said.

"He wasn't getting paid anymore," her son Don Lindgren told KABC. "But he stayed on my mom's case and worked it for free."

Detective Joe Purcell had been working the case since 67-year-old Lindgren, whom he described as a “little old lady,” had been killed at a Covina retirement home on Jan. 19, 1996.

The case went cold, but continued to haunt Purcell into his retirement, until he was hired back on the force to work on cold case murders.

In that time, they received hundreds of leads, but the case began picking up momentum again this year. But earlier this summer, just as they closed in on Lindgren's alleged killer, the LASD, facing budget cuts, cut the positions of 13 cold case detectives, including Purcell.

Despite no longer receiving a paycheck, Purcell continued to report in every day to finish the case.

"He hasn't been employed here since July 1, yet he still comes to work every day to finish this case,” LASD Homicide Captain Kent Wegener said.

Eventually, authorities say a DNA sample collected from the crime scene 24 years ago led them to 46-year-old David Bernal, whose father’s DNA was in the system for having served time in prison.

Lindgren said arresting a suspect in connection with the crime is helping his family, including Mary’s three grandchildren, move on. “We can start remembering the beautiful things, beautiful memories,” he said.

Bernal, who was arrested by Purcell and his team, made his first appearance in court Friday. His arraignment was delayed and he did not enter a plea.

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