Baggen vanished May 4, 1996, after she left a birthday party at her sister’s house and walked home, according to investigators. Two days later, her body was discovered buried in the woods in Sitka, southwest of Juneau, cops said.
A suspect, Steve Branch, 66, died by suicide last week after state police investigators traveled to his home in Austin, Arkansas to interview him about Baggen’s murder.
Cops said they tried to obtain a DNA sample, which he refused. Branch denied involvement in the teen's death, cops say. A half-hour after the officers left to get a warrant, Branch died by suicide, police said Tuesday.
Cops said they are confident that Branch killed Braggen.
“While Branch will never face a jury of his peers in this case, we can finally say that Jessica’s case is solved,” Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price told reporters Tuesday during a press conference, where they announced the case was solved.
In 2018, Baggen’s DNA was sent to Parabon NanoLabs, which uploaded it to public genealogy databases, and Branch had emerged as a suspect, cops say.
Branch lived in the same town where the teen was killed. Around the time of Baggen's death, Branch had been indicted and acquitted in the sexual assault of a teen jogger. He moved to Arkansas in 2010.
Authorities obtained a DNA sample from a Branch's relative and it was determined that Branch’s DNA closely resembled the DNA found in 1996. After his death by suicide, scientists matched DNA obtained from his body during an autopsy to the suspect's DNA, cops said.