Indiana police announced they have identified the killer of college student Pamela Milam, nearly 50 years after her bruised body was found gagged and bound in the trunk of her car.
Terre Haute Police Chief Shawn Keen told reporters Monday that Jeffrey Lynn Hand was identified as the killer, based on DNA and genealogy testing. Hand died in a shootout with police during an attempted kidnapping, six years after Milam was murdered, Keen said.
Relatives of the 19-year-old murder victim expressed relief after decades of pain.
"It's been a long 46 years, seven months and 20 days," said Charlene Sanford, Milam's sister. "Many of us, as we got older, thought we would die before we ever learned who killed our sister."
The family is "happy to know he hasn't been out there living a great life for 47 years," she said.
Milam disappeared on Sept. 15, 1972, after she left a sorority function at Indiana State University. The student commuted to campus from her family's home in Terre Haute. When she didn't come home that night, her father and sister searched the campus and discovered her car in a parking lot.
They found her remains in the trunk.
"We had no witnesses, no description of a suspect," Keen said at Monday's news conference.
At the time, detectives believed Milam's murder was committed by Robert Wayne Austin, a local man arrested for a serious of campus sexual assaults, But they had no evidence linking Austin to her killing.
In 2008, after becoming the chief of detectives in his department, Keen assigned himself to the Milam's cold case.
"When I first opened the case, I couldn't stop reading it," he said. Consumed by the unsolved murder, Keen worked long hours at home, spreading the case file all over his house, much to his wife's chagrin.
"I had no idea it would be 11 years before we had a resolution to this," he said.
Last year, Keen teamed with Parabon NanoLabs, which works with law enforcement agencies using ancestry databases, DNA and genealogy research to solve open cases.
He submitted a profile to a public genetic database and was able to eventually winnow a list of possible suspects to one person, Jeffrey Hand, who had a history of violence including the killing of a hitchhiker in 1973, Keen said.
Hand was freed from prison in 1976 after being found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Keen located Hand's widow and two sons, he said. DNA samples from them showed a 99.9% probability that genetic material found on Milam's blouse matched Hand, Keen said.
Hand was 23 at the time of the killing and worked as a delivery man for a record company. Keen said Hand's encounter with Milam was random and likely occurred as he cruised the Indiana campus after work.
Hand was killed in 1978 as he tried to abduct a woman getting into her car at a shopping mall, Keen said. "Fortunately, this time there was an off-duty sheriff's deputy there," he told local journalists. "A pursuit ensues, he shoots the sheriff's deputy twice, and a city officer there shoots and kills him."