NOTE: The work for the cases spotlighted in this article may or may not have been performed by Sorenson Forensics.
Because of advances in DNA technology, law enforcement now has the ability to re-open cold cases involving murder and/or sexual assault and successfully prosecute perpetrators. DNA forensic testing techniques are revolutionizing the way cases are solved, whether a crime happened yesterday or 20 years ago. It’s about delivering justice for victims, no matter how long it takes, or even exonerating the innocent.
Direct from newsrooms all over the country and around the world, here are the Top 5 Cold Cases for the last month.
Cold Case #5 (2008, Pennsylvania): Mother/Son Duo Arrested for Husband’s Murder
Thomas Conrad didn’t show up for a scheduled sex-offender meeting in January, 2008. With virtually no leads to follow up on, the Somerset County case quickly went cold. That all changed earlier this year. In June, Conrad’s stepson, Samuel McFarland, was arrested and charged with the murder; then in July, Conrad’s wife, Jeanette Battle, was also arrested.
It turns out McFarland is a big talker—Somerset County District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser said more than 40 people have been interviewed since the case was reopened. Some of those interviewed indicated Conrad’s stepson bragged about the killing often, and this led to his arrest. Information about why Battle was also arrested has not yet been released. Thanks to good police-work, Conrad’s body was finally located and DNA testing is being conducted to confirm the identity of his remains.
SEE THE FULL STORY HERE
Cold Case #4 (1982, England): John Travolta Fantasist gets Life
In the 1980s, James Warnock was obsessed with John Travolta. He fancied himself quite the ladies’ man and even coiffed his hair to try to look more like the movie star. But when he was arrested, Warnock looked far from macho—the now middle-aged father of two was sitting at home drinking beer in his underwear. It took 34 years, but the family of Yiannoulla Yianni—who was brutally raped and murdered in her own bed—finally witnessed justice for their beloved “Lucy.”
In the summer of 1982, Lucy’s mother sent her home from the family shoe-repair shop to start dinner. When the rest of the family arrived, they found “a sight beyond their worst imagining.” At the time, investigators went as far as Australia in search of the killer, but to no avail.
Fast-forward to late 2015. Warnock was picked up on charges of distributing child porn just two miles away from the scene of the crime. When his DNA was run in the system, his profile matched evidence in Lucy’s case. This month Warnock was sentenced to 25 years to life. Lucy’s brother Rick said: “Thankfully the long arm of the law has reached out from the past to bring this evil being to justice.”
Cold Case #3 (1996, Idaho): Man Confessed, but DNA Says Otherwise
39-year-old Chris Tapp has been in prison 19 years so far, serving a 30-to-life sentence for the 1996 murder of Angie Dodge. The problem? Despite confessing to the crime around the time of his arrest, new DNA testing shows no evidence that Tapp was present at the scene of the killing. How did this happen?
Tapp now says his long-ago confession was false and that anything he knew about the crime came from sitting through an exhausting number of long interrogations as well as polygraph tests. This claim has been supported by a number of outside investigators and experts; even the victim’s mother, Carol Dodge, agrees that Tapp falsely confessed when under extreme pressure.
So what’s next? “We’re going to ask the court to overturn the conviction based on the new DNA evidence, which shows that Chris Tapp’s confession was false,” says public defender John Thomas.
Cold Case #2 (1982, Michigan): “I always knew she was murdered.”
In 1982, Russel Adkins was 23 years old when he gave two young women a ride home from a Michigan bar. One of those women would never make it home: instead of being dropped off at home like her friend was, 19-year-old Dana Rosendale was found unconscious and seriously injured by the side of the road. She later died and the cause was ruled undetermined. A 2014 exhumation and second autopsy, however, led to her death being ruled a homicide and the cold case was re-opened.
Russel Adkins, now 57 and the last person to see Rosendale alive, was arrested. The prosecution argued that damage to the skull was caused by repeated blows from a blunt object while the defense claimed the wounds were caused by falling out of the car. Ultimately, the prosecution made the stronger case and Adkins received a life sentence. Said Rosendale’s sister: “I always knew she was murdered.”
Rosendale’s daughter, Brittany Stork, who was 8 months old when her mother was killed, said “We’ve never really been a complete family because she’s never been there.”
Cold Case #1 (2008, Utah): Long-lost Rape Kit Leads to Conviction
Thanks to the increased awareness of rape-kit backlog from coast to coast, untested kits are getting more attention than ever. So when a 2008 rape kit was discovered in the back of a hospital fridge, the State Crime Lab processed the evidence and came up with a match: Troy Bradley Clark.
Clark was a family acquaintance, and according to the then-14-year-old victim’s recent testimony, she was assaulted multiple times over a period of years. Although the mother witnessed the final assault, Clark was never charged due to a lack of cooperation from the child, and the case was closed.
When investigators approached the victim recently, however, she thanked them for contacting her and was now able to talk about the assaults. Clark was charged with two counts of first-degree felony rape of a child as well as two counts of third-degree felony unlawful sexual activity with a minor. He has been convicted and will serve up to life.
Sorenson Forensics is a leading provider of advanced forensic casework and DNA testing services to federal, state and local crime laboratories. We also assist officers of the court in individual criminal cases and offer comprehensive forensic DNA services to private-industry clients. Contact us to see what we can do for you, and follow us on Facebook and @ForensicLabPros on Twitter.
Associated Press. “New DNA Tests Don’t Connect Convicted Murderer to Crime.” KBOI. KBOI, 6 July 2016. Web. 26 July 2016. <http://kboi2.com/news/local/new-dna-tests-dont-connect-convicted-murderer-to-crime>.
Cheung, Karina. “Officials Arrest 2 in Cold Case Murder.” WEARECENTRALPA. Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc., 16 July 2016. Web. 26 July 2016. <http://www.wearecentralpa.com/news/officials-arrest-2-in-cold-case-murder>.
Clark, Bryan. “Did He Do It? Man Sentenced to Life in Prison for Murder Says He Falsely Confessed.” KBOI. KBOI, 29 Jan. 2016. Web. 26 July 2016. <http://kboi2.com/news/local/did-he-do-it-man-sentenced-to-life-in-prison-for-murder-says-he-falsely-confessed>.
Cox, James. “Chilling Moment John Travolta Fantasist Laughed as He Is Confronted over Cold Case Murder.” The Sun. News Group Newspapers, 18 July 2016. Web. 26 July 2016. <https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/1461372/chilling-moment-john-travolta-fantasist-laughed-as-he-is-confronted-over-cold-case-murder/>.
Kuebeck, Peter. “Adkins Gets Life Sentence in 1982 Cold Case Murder.” Sentinel-Tribune. Sentinel-Tribune, 18 July 2016. Web. 26 July 2016. <http://www.sent-trib.com/news/adkins-gets-life-sentence-in-cold-case-murder/article_1317cd1a-4d09-11e6-8ebe-1796c53bee08.html>.
“Once-forgotten Utah Child Rape Case Ends with Perpetrator Going to Prison.” Salt Lake Tribune. Media One, 21 July 2016. Web. 27 July 2016. <http://www.sltrib.com/home/4142423-155/once-forgotten-utah-child-rape-case-ends http://www.sltrib.com/home/2664987-155/found-rape-kit-allows-utah-police>.
Press Association. “‘John Travolta Lookalike’ Convicted of 1982 Rape-murder after DNA Breakthrough.” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 15 July 2016. Web. 26 July 2016. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/pa/article-3692098/John-Travolta-fantasist-faces-life-bars-raping-murdering-teenager.html>.