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Forgotten Crimes
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How DNA Evidence Cracked 5 Cold-Blooded Murder Cases

The science of DNA was first discovered in 1869 by a Swiss chemist named Fredrich Miescher. It would take nearly a century before it was really and truly understood. It would take another hundred more years before it was used in a court of law in 1987. At the time, it was difficult for jurors to understand the complex science behind the complicated chains of deoxyribonucleic acid aka DNA.

Fast-forward to more modern times and today DNA has become a staple in the majority of criminal trials since its more accurate than a generic blood type or even a partial fingerprint. Its ability to pinpoint a single perpetrator among billions of potential suspects is paramount in solving many open cases especially cold ones.

In this light, here are five chilling examples where DNA evidence cracked these cold cases wide open:

1. James DeAngelo

Most recently, the case of James Deangelo, dubbed The Golden State Killer hit global headlines when he was eventually captured after many decades. Also known as the East Area Rapist, back in the seventies and eighties, an unknown serial killer, and sexual assault suspect was terrorizing the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Thanks to DNA evidence, cops were able to capture and arrest 72-year-old DeAngelo at his home in Citrus Heights, a suburb of Sacramento, California on April 24, 2018. Although he was booked into jail on two counts of murder, police said he was likely responsible for at least twelve other murders and forty-five rapes in a series of attacks that began over four decades ago.

DeAngelo would take a plea deal to take the death penalty off the table for his heinous crimes. This also avoided a lengthy and costly court case. Live footage of his sentencing to life in prison without the possibility of parole was viewed across the country.

This included gripping victim impact statements from friends and family of the wrongfully deceased. During the grizzly coverage, DeAngelo admitted to killing thirteen people and raping more than fifty women.


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2. Hector Bencomo-Hinojos

The Denver Cold Case Team celebrated a chilling anniversary with the 100th rape or murder to be solved by this group of determined detectives. In this case, thirty-two-year-old mentally disabled Patricia Beard hadn't been in touch with family or friends in several days. Colorado cops in Denver were notified on March 27, 1981, after her partially clothed dead body was found on her bed. 

It was later determined she had been strangled and sexually assaulted by an unknown attacker. Although DNA evidence was collected post-mortem, it wasn't entered into a database until 2011. Two years later authorities got a hit with a match to Hector Bencomo-Hinojos, a fifty-three-year-old man living in Pennsylvania. Although Bencomo-Hinojos denied ever knowing Beard, DNA indicated he had sexual contact with her within hours of her violent death.

After being extradited to Colorado, DA spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough reported Hector's DNA was entered into an FBI database following a federal arrest in Philadelphia which eventually led to the match. Facing charges of first-degree murder and his wife claiming he was a violent man, Bencomo-Hinojos plead guilty to second-degree murder and second-degree kidnapping in Beard's death. He was sentenced to forty-eight years in prison in a hearing attended by friends and family of Patricia Beard in Denver.

3. Matthew Breck

In 1998, citizens of Salt Lake City were shocked at the death of ten-year-old Anna Palmer who was brutally beaten and killed on the steps outside the front door of her home in Utah. She was stabbed multiple times and following the crime, detectives were left with no witnesses or suspects and little evidence. More than ten years later, in 2009, forensic analysts were called in to assist with the case.

These medical experts decided to examine the girl's fingernails for possible DNA evidence. Using visible and alternative light sources, they were able to locate and collect a tiny DNA sample. The minuscule sample they collected was from the killer and not the victim. Later their efforts proved successful when a hit matched a man named Matthew Breck who lived a block away from the family at the time of her murder. 

When he was charged with Palmer's murder, Breck was already serving a ten-year prison sentence for a sexually-related crime committed against a child. Thanks to the persistence of the forensic team, he pled guilty to an aggravated murder charge in the death of Anna Palmer and will spend the rest of his life behind bars. 

4. Donna (Formerly Douglas) Perry

When three prostitutes were killed separately in Spokane, Washington in 1990 all from .22 caliber gunshot wounds, police were baffled by the killer's identity. At the time of their deaths, investigators assumed the murders of twenty-six-year-old Yolanda Sapp, Nickie Lowe, (33), and Kathleen Brisbois (38), must be related in some way, but a proven connection wouldn't be made for many years.

Both the connection and a DNA match was made following the arrest of Donna Perry formerly known as Douglas Perry before a sex change occurring the same year as the murders. Perry was booked on federal charges of possession of illegal firearms in 2012. This was prior to when the investigation of these murders was re-opened in 2005 and DNA evidence was submitted to a database in 2009. 

A forensic match led authorities to charge sixty-one-year-old Perry with all three murders. A search of the perpetrator's premises revealed several old pairs of women's panties that police believed didn't belong to the accused but weren't proof positive of guilt. Thanks to DNA evidence presented during a jury trial of her peers, Perry was convicted of these serial crimes and sentenced to three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. 

7. Oldest Cold Case In History Cracked

Back in 1963, police had no clue who sexually assaulted and killed Margaret "Peggy" Beck who was alone inside her Girl Scout tent. Her sleep-over buddy was ill and sent to the infirmary leaving Peggy alone with no witness to the crime. 

Advances in DNA technologies later led investigators to identify James Raymond Taylor as the perpetrator of this despicable crime in April 2020. Authorities believe this is the oldest cold case ever to be cracked using genealogical testing leading to a match from samples entered into a public database.

Although Taylor's family has cooperated with the investigation, they haven't seen James since the seventies. Taylor, who would be eighty-years-old if he's still alive, was last known to be residing in Las Vegas in 1976. According to the investigating officer, Elias Alberti, "We have spent several months searching for James Taylor with no luck," he said, "We have no idea where he's at."

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