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, cold cases are now being solved every day. Victims are seeing their day in court, and new life is being breathed into the quest for justice. DNA forensic testing is one of the most powerful weapons in law enforcement’s arsenal, giving fresh hope to victims of long-ago crimes—and their families.
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 (1989, Kansas): Real-Estate Agent Arrested for Vicious Murder
She’s a real-estate agent and mother of two children who looks like she stepped out of the pages of a magazine about suburban living. But 48-year-old Carolyn Heckert of Smithville, Missouri, has been keeping a very dark secret for 27 years. Police recently arrested Heckert for the savage 1989 stabbing death of 18-year-old Sarah DeLeon in Kansas City. Sarah had been dating Heckert’s ex-boyfriend and the victim’s family now believes it may have been a revenge killing. But back in 1989 the case went cold.
Improvements in DNA technology and a fresh investigative look at the case by law enforcement led straight to Heckert’s door. There is a twist in this case. DNA also links the murder of Sarah with that of mother-of-two Diana Ault in 1994. Although Heckert has not been charged in the second case, there is reason to believe she may have been having an affair with Ault’s husband at the time of Diana’s death. Heckert has now been charged with Sarah DeLeon’s murder and is being held of $1 million bond.
SEE THE VICTIM’S BROTHER’S REACTION HERE
Cold Case #4 (1994, Michigan): DNA Points to Serial Criminal
On a sultry August evening in 1994, 22-year-old Rosalia Brantley of Pontiac, Michigan was brutally murdered. Her body was wrapped in a shower curtain and dumped in a nearby park, where it was subsequently discovered by a park visitor. With no witnesses and no viable leads, Rosalia’s case went cold for a long 22 years.
Convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and second-degree murder for an unrelated set of crimes in 1995, Brandon Gohagen submitted a sample of his DNA. When Rosalia’s case got a new look by investigators, the sample from her case yielded a match: Gohagen. He has now been charged with felony murder and criminal sexual conduct.
Says Sheriff Michael Bouchard: “This case is further proof that we keep looking, keep digging and follow up.”
SEE THE FULL STORY HERE
Cold Case #3 (2004, Nevada): “Pirate” Charged with Rape of Wheelchair-bound Victim
DNA testing led to the recent extradition from Alaska to Nevada of a man with the legal name of “Pirate.” He is facing sexual assault, battery to commit sexual assault, and first-degree kidnapping for a horrific 2004 incident at a Las Vegas hotel. The victim is a woman in a wheelchair who reported that she had been beaten repeatedly with a belt and raped. Although Pirate was briefly detained by police at the time, charges were never brought against him. Until now.
Pirate was arrested in late 2015 for another savage crime where a woman was bound, held against her will in a remote Alaska cabin, and raped repeatedly over a month. That case fell apart when the victim subsequently passed away, but Pirate’s DNA profile was now in the CODIS national database. Law enforcement in Nevada matched Pirate’s profile to the 2004 case and are now moving forward with seeking justice for the wheelchair victim.
Cold Case #2 (2000, Ohio): Rape Kit Backlog Testing Yields Match
Rape kit backlog has taken center stage this year as police departments all across America take advantage of federal and other grants to process untested kits. In Ohio, this effort has led to several positive outcomes, including this one: Thanks to revitalized testing efforts, 56-year-old Efram Johnson is currently on trial for the 2000 rape of a then 38-year-old woman. Johnson is already serving a life sentence for murder, and when the DNA in the backlogged 2010 rape kit was tested, it matched his profile from the murder case. He is now facing charges of rape, felonious assault, and kidnapping.
The setting for the crime was a supposed drug deal gone bad. Under the guise of selling her drugs, Johnson allegedly lured her to a wooded area where she was brutally raped. The woman testified against him on the stand during trial and stated that she recognizes him still because of “the eyes.”
LEARN MORE ABOUT IT HERE
Cold Case #1 (2004, Nevada): DNA Testing Links Separate Crimes to One Man
He seemed like a perfectly normal neighbor in his apartment complex, so residents were shocked when 42-year-old Brandon McGuire was hauled away and charged with two counts of sexual assault and one count of kidnapping. He may have been trying to live a normal life, but he couldn’t escape the DNA he left behind at the scene of the crime. DNA testing backlogged rape kits is an important part of Las Vegas’s “cold case project,” and this success can be directly attributed to this effort.
In 2004, a woman accepted a ride from the suspect, who then drove her to an area outside town. She was sexually assaulted at knifepoint, but the perpetrator was unknown at the time. When law enforcement recently tested the rape kit in this case, it yielded a match to McGuire. DNA has also linked McGuire to a 1998 murder, but that investigation is still ongoing.
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.
Banks, Katie. “Brother Grateful for Support following Arrest He Feared Would Never Happen in Sister’s KCK Cold Case Murder.” Fox4kccom. Tribune Broadcasting, 22 Oct. 2016. Web. 28 Oct. 2016. <http://fox4kc.com/2016/10/21/kck-man-grateful-for-community-support-following-arrest-he-feared-would-never-happen-in-sisters-cold-case-murder/>.
Cortez, Ricardo Torres. “Police Announce Man’s Arrest in 2004 Cold Case Rape.” LasVegasSun.com. Las Vegas Sun, 12 Oct. 2016. Web. 28 Oct. 2016. <https://lasvegassun.com/news/2016/oct/12/police-announce-mans-arrest-in-2004-cold-case-rape/>.
Dobbyn, Paula. “Man Charged with Rape and Kidnapping in Alaska Extradited to Nevada.” Man Charged with Rape and Kidnapping in Alaska Extradited to Nevada. Gray Digital Media, 12 Oct. 2016. Web. 28 Oct. 2016. <http://www.ktuu.com/content/news/A-man-charged-rape-and-kidnapping-in-Alaska-extradicted-to-Nevada-396879121.html>.
Jarvis, Katherine, and Christopher King. “UPDATE: Neighbors Relieved after Police Arrest Suspect in 2004 Sexual Assault Case.” KTNV. Kripps TV Station Group, 14 Oct. 2016. Web. 28 Oct. 2016. <http://www.ktnv.com/news/crime/dna-leads-to-arrest-in-2004-sexual-assault-case>.
Klint, Chris. “Cold-case DNA Match Sends Alaska Kidnapping, Rape Suspect to Nevada.” Alaska Dispatch News. Alaska Dispatch Publishing, 14 Oct. 2016. Web. 28 Oct. 2016. <https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/crime-courts/2016/10/14/cold-case-dna-match-sends-alaska-kidnapping-rape-suspect-to-nevada/>.
Knapp, George, and Matt Adams. “I-Team: DNA Evidence Links Man to Las Vegas Cold Case Murder.” LASVEGASNOW. Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc., 13 Oct. 2016. Web. 28 Oct. 2016. <http://www.lasvegasnow.com/news/i-team-dna-evidence-links-man-to-las-vegas-cold-case-murder>.
Martindale, Mike. “Police Say DNA Links Convict to 1994 Pontiac Killing.” Detroit News. Digital First Media, 17 Oct. 2016. Web. 28 Oct. 2016. <http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/oakland-county/2016/10/17/oakland-cold-case-dna-pontiac-killing/92301794/>.
“Realtor Arrested for 1989 Cold-case Murder of Sarah DeLeon.” Crimewatch. Telepictures Productions, Inc., 25 Oct. 2016. Web. 28 Oct. 2016. <http://crimewatchdaily.com/2016/10/25/realtor-arrested-for-1989-cold-case-murder-of-sarah-deleon/>.
Warsmith, Stephanie. “Akron Man Goes on Trial in Rape Linked to DNA Evidence; Efrem Johnson Already in Prison for Murder.” Www.ohio.com. The Akron Beacon Journal, 6 Oct. 2016. Web. 28 Oct. 2016. <http://www.ohio.com/news/local/akron-man-goes-on-trial-in-rape-linked-to-dna-evidence-efrem-johnson-already-in-prison-for-murder-1.717290>.
WTXF. “Woman, 48, Arrested in Cold-case Killing of College Student Butchered to Death in 1989.” WTXF. N.p., 22 Oct. 2016. Web. 28 Oct. 2016. <http://www.fox29.com/trending/213083926-story>.