NOTE: The work for the cases spotlighted in this article may or may not have been performed by Sorenson Forensics.
Thanks to advances in DNA technology , newspapers and the internet are filled with scores of daily news stories announcing the resolution of cold cases. DNA forensic testing allows hard-working investigators to re-open long-dormant investigations and give those unsolved crimes another look.
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 (1983, New York): Burglar Turned Librarian Finally Nabbed
“Mr. Schreiber survived World War I, but he did not survive those who, during the night of June 23, 1983, invaded his home, attacked him, and took his life.” – Acting Erie County Attorney Patrick Flaherty.
In 1983, 92-year-old Edmund Schreiber was found strangled with eight of his own neckties on the bed of his modest home in Buffalo, New York. Investigators suspected the crime started as a burglary by neighborhood teenagers, but were not able to identify—let alone prosecute—any of the suspects 33 years ago.
Saundra Adams, now 50, was a neighbor of the victim’s at the time and still lives in the area—working as a librarian. She has practically no criminal record, but when the case was recently re-opened and testing conducted, her DNA was found all over the neckties that were used to strangle the victim. Adams was arraigned and charged with second degree murder on September August 31.
Cold Case #4 (2000, Michigan): Drunken Driver Charged with Drowning Murder
In March of 2000, Patricia Leeper drowned in a water-filled ditch in Alcona County, Michigan—and it wasn’t an accident. Police determined it was a homicide, but there were no witnesses and no clues as to who could have murdered the 39-year-old woman. DNA evidence associated with the crime scene was collected and added to the FBI’s CODIS database. The hope, of course, is that one day the unknown perpetrator would be arrested and submit his DNA, resulting in a match. 16 years after the murder, that day came.
In April of this year, 40-year-old Nathaniel Ballard was nabbed for operating while intoxicated and submitted a DNA sample. His sample matched DNA from the crime scene and he was arrested and charged with open murder. Even with two strikes against her—the passage of time and no witnesses—the wheels of justice are finally rolling for Patricia Leeper.
Cold Case #3 (1973, California): Possible Answers at Last—43 Years Later
DNA testing finally gave some answers to the families of two young classmates, a full 43 years after the children were murdered in cold blood near Sacramento, California. The last time their mothers saw them in 1973, Valerie Janice Lane, 12, and 13-year-old Doris Karen Derryberry said they were headed to a nearby mall. Neither girl returned home. Their bodies were discovered within 24 hours by two boys in a wooded area; they had been killed by shotgun blasts. Even though a large-scale investigation was conducted right away, the case nonetheless went cold after three years.
Fast-forward to March of 2014, when an investigator ran semen samples collected at the crime scene through the CODIS database. The DNA matched the genetic profiles of Larry Don Patterson and William Lloyd Harbour, who were living in the area at the time of the murders. In the years since the crime, both men committed serious offenses for which they submitted DNA samples—and those current samples linked them directly to the 1973 events. They have been charged with murder. Yuba County Sheriff Steve Durfor says, “[The families] have endured decades of suffering and grief for not knowing who was responsible for the brutal murder of their loved ones.” Perhaps now they’ll get their answers.
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Cold Case #2 (1989, Minnesota): Resolution in Case that Transfixed America
In 1989, 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling, his little brother, and a friend were biking home from a store when they were ambushed by an adult man wearing a stocking cap. The man ordered two of the boys to run away but kept Jacob behind. The boy was never seen again. A frantic search began, and all of America was affected by this random abduction in the middle of a peaceful, rural setting. Was the boy still alive? Where was he and who did this? For 27 years, authorities searched for answers, but with no success—that is, until DNA technology became sophisticated enough to make a difference.
A boy named Jared Scheieri was abducted and assaulted a month prior to Jacob, and in a very similar manner. Hoping to draw renewed attention to the Wetterling case, Scheieri spoke out publicly in 2004 about his own ordeal. It worked. Last year, armed with better technology, DNA from a sweatshirt Scheieri was wearing during his assault was run through CODIS and matched 62-year-old Danny Seitz.
Although the statute of limitations had expired on Scheieri’s case, authorities searched Seitz’s residence and found child pornography. As part of a plea bargain, on September 1, 2016, Seitz led investigators to Jacob Wetterling’s burial site, about 30 miles from the boy’s home. As part of the deal, Seitz will not be charged with Jacob’s murder, but he did plead guilty to federal pornography charges which could bring a hefty prison sentence.
The Wetterling family, tireless advocates for child protection, now have a measure of closure.
Cold Case #1 (1991, Illinois): After DNA Exonerates 5, Arrest Finally Made
It is one of Illinois’ most notorious recent cases: In 2011, five men convicted of raping and murdering 14-year-old Cateresa Matthews in 1991 saw their convictions reversed due to results from DNA testing. Although the “Dixmoor Five,” as they were known, gained their freedom, the conviction reversal was agonizing for Matthews’ family members seeking justice for the teen.
On September 1, 58-year-old Willie Randolph was charged with the murder of Matthews. Although DNA evidence pointed toward him as early as five years ago, prosecutors said they needed the extra time to compile more evidence. Young Cateresa was kidnapped at a bus stop, raped, and shot through the mouth as she pled for mercy. Her mother, Theresa Matthews, is ready for the wheels of justice to resume turning for her only daughter. Ironically, Randolph is currently serving a sentence for drug possession and was scheduled to be released in a few weeks. Not anymore.
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. “2 Men Arrested In California Girls’ 1973 Killings.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 13 Sept. 2016. Web. 26 Sept. 2016. <http://www.foxnews.com/us/2016/09/13/2-men-arrested-in-california-girls-1973-killings.html>.
“Cold Case Revived: Suspect Charged 25 Years after Teen’s Death.” The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, 02 Sept. 2016. Web. 26 Sept. 2016. <http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2016/0902/Cold-case-revived-Suspect-charged-25-years-after-teen-s-death>.
“Drunk Driving Arrest Leads State Police to Cold Case Murder Suspect.” WPBN. WPBN/Associated Press, 4 Sept. 2016. Web. 26 Sept. 2016. <http://upnorthlive.com/news/local/drunk-driving-arrest-leads-state-police-to-cold-case-murder-suspect>.
“Jacob Wetterling.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob_Wetterling>.
Lowe, Caroline, and Steven Eckert. “What Finally Cracked the Wetterling Case?” KARE. TEGNA, 14 Sept. 2016. Web. 26 Sept. 2016. <http://www.kare11.com/news/crime/what-finally-cracked-the-wetterling-case/314055605>.
Miller, Melinda. “Neighbor Charged in 1983 Cold Case Using DNA from Neckties Used to Strangle Victim – The Buffalo News.” Www.buffaloNews.com. The Buffalo News, 7 Sept. 2016. Web. 26 Sept. 2016. <http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/buffalo/neighbor-charged-in-1983-cold-case-using-dna-from-neckties-used-to-strangle-victim-20160907>.
Parseghian, Aaron. “Murder Suspect Arraigned In 16 Year Old Cold Case.” WBKB. N.p., 2 Sept. 2016. Web. 26 Sept. 2016. <http://wbkb11.com/news/local/10202-murder-suspect-arraigned-in-16-year-old-cold-case>.
Vaughters, Al. “Cold Case Murder Investigation Leads to Arrest of Librarian.” Wivbcom. LIN Television Corporation, 07 Sept. 2016. Web. 26 Sept. 2016. <http://wivb.com/2016/09/07/cold-case-murder-investigation-leads-to-arrest-of-librarian/>.