Rachel Drummond, MEd
Solving cold cases provides closure for families who have waited years for justice. Recent developments in DNA evidence analysis and true crime artistry are hastening these long-overdue resolutions. Unfortunately, closing a case also means bringing up painful memories associated with these tragedies. However, knowing the full truth of what happened can bring peace of mind to loved ones of murder victims whose deaths have been shrouded in mystery and heartbreak.
With the increasing use of DNA analysis, cold cases are being solved faster than ever. In the past, cold murder cases could remain unsolved for decades due to a lack of evidence. However, modern advances in DNA technology mean that police can now solve the most long-term murder cases and overturn wrongful convictions.
For example, in Germany in 2023, a man was arrested as a suspect in a 1988 cold murder case after police used DNA analysis to match the suspect’s profile with evidence from the crime scene. Moreover, in 2017, DNA testing exonerated 71-year-old Craig Coley of a double murder he was wrongfully convicted of in 1978.
True crime media and stories have become increasingly popular in recent years, as they provide a medium to explore the intricacies of unsolved cold murder cases and other mysteries. While it is easy to dismiss true crime solely as entertainment, its presence in society has undeniably contributed to solving historical cold cases. Michelle McNamara, an American true crime author and journalist, wrote a bestselling book about the Golden State Killer, which was published posthumously after her death in 2016. Her book turned into an HBO docu-series titled “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” and two months after its release, police arrested and later convicted serial killer and rapist Joseph James DeAngelo. The true-crime genre does more than sell books: it brings attention to previously forgotten cases and helps generate public interest in unsolved crimes.
Thanks to advances in forensic genealogy and other cutting-edge technologies, forgotten crimes can now be reexamined with much greater accuracy, unlocking new leads that would otherwise remain hidden with the support of specialized DNA databases. At the same time, the popularity of true crime books, TV series, and podcasts have raised public interest in unsolved mysteries, encouraging citizens to submit any additional evidence or tips that could help bring closure and justice to victims’ families. These two forces have ushered in a new era of cold case solving.
Check out this list of 10 cold murder cases that have been solved thanks to modern DNA analysis and true crime journalists. Each of these cases was considered unsolvable until advances in forensic science and mainstream media made it possible to bring long-awaited closure and justice for the victims’ families.
Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested and charged with 13 counts of murder in 2018, linked to multiple unsolved cold cases that dated as far back as 1974. To find him, investigators used public genealogy databases matching the efforts with data obtained from the victims’ relatives leading them closer and closer until they found DeAngelo himself by using his discarded items, such as razors and napkins, to obtain his DNA which connected him to 13 murders, 51 sexual assaults, and 120 burglaries.
The HBO limited series “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” released shortly before DeAngelo’s arrest in 2018, featured the case of the Golden State Killer, as told through interviews with victims, family members, and investigators, providing an in-depth look at how this unsolved case was eventually solved. In 2020, The Guardian reported DeAngelo was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Robert Durst is a New York real estate heir who has been accused of, and convicted of, several criminal activities. He was initially arrested in 2001 for the murder of his neighbor in Galveston, Texas, but he was eventually acquitted after claiming self-defense. The investigation into this case reignited in 2015 when Durst was a key suspect in the disappearance of his first wife, Kathie McCormack Durst. The documentary series, “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” detailed the alleged criminal activities.
On the same night, the final episode aired, Durst was arrested for the murder of Susan Berman, his long-time friend, who knew the truth about the disappearance of Durst’s first wife. In September 2020, Durst was sentenced to life in prison for the first-degree murder of Susan Berman in December 2000. Shortly after, he was charged with the murder of his first wife, but it never went to trial. According to The Guardian, Durst died in a California hospital in January 2022 while serving his life sentence.
In 1956, three boys discovered the body of 18-year-old Lloyd Duane Bogle near his car with a gunshot wound to the head, the victim’s hands tied behind his back. The following day, a county road worker uncovered 16-year-old Patricia Kalitzke’s body north of Great Falls; she was shot and sexually assaulted.
These killings remained unsolved until June 2021, when investigators announced they had used DNA evidence and forensic genealogy to crack the case, making it one of the oldest cold cases solved using these methods. Unfortunately, the killer, Kenneth Gould, died in 2007.
Still, according to NPR, his surviving family members cooperated with investigators and gave their DNA samples to confirm he was the murderer, bringing closure to a 60-year-old case.
In 2022, new developments in the 2009 “Baby Theresa” case were revealed. A moniker given to a nameless newborn found by the side of a road, the body of Baby Theresa was found on June 5th, 2009, deceased and tied up in a garbage bag near Theresa, Wisconsin. DNA evidence identified Baby Theresa’s biological parents, Karin Luttinen, and her boyfriend (who was not named in the case). Authorities found the parents through DNA technology, according to WMTV.
Forensic investigation showed that “Baby Theresa” died during or soon after birth and was not murdered, but whose body was abandoned. In September 2022, Karin Luttinen was sentenced to three years of probation after her guilty plea for concealing the death of a child.
For nearly 52 years, the cold case of Nancy Marie Bennallack’s murder had been a mystery. In October 1970, the 28-year-old court reporter was brutally stabbed in her Sacramento apartment. Her family, friends, and even her then fiancé, whom she was supposed to marry about a month later, had no answers for decades about who killed her.
In August 2022, Yahoo! News reported investigators from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office and Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office identified Richard John Davis as Nancy’s killer thanks to the advanced technology of DNA genealogy techniques, which have been used extensively to capture the Golden State Killer. Davis died from complications of alcoholism in 1997 at age 54. The cold case was finally put to rest after more than four decades.
The cold case of Anna Jean Kane’s murder goes back over 35 years, making it one of the longest unsolved cases in Pennsylvania. The brutal crime occurred on October 23, 1988, alongside a road in Perry Township. After decades of dead-ends, breakthrough DNA genetic genealogy technology has finally identified Scott Grim as the killer. Pennsylvania State Police and Berks County District Attorney John Adams broke the news in August 2022.
It is an incredible development that offers long-awaited closure for Anna Kane’s family, especially with added insight from a chilling letter sent to a local newspaper after her death that contained intimate details of the crime.
In February 1990, the cold case was reignited when an anonymous letter, signed by a “concerned citizen”, addressed the newspaper containing “numerous intimate details” about the murder. State Police Trooper Daniel Womer said this led them to believe that the letter’s author may have been responsible for the homicide. The saliva-sealed envelope from which the letter was sent tested positive for DNA matching that on Kane’s clothing, indicating Scott Grim as a possible suspect.
Unfortunately, Grim passed away in 2018 due to natural causes and could not be brought to trial to testify. He had been just 26 years of age at the time of Kane’s murder, according to NBC.
The cold case of Fawn Cox has been a source of deep grief and immense frustration for Kansas City Missouri Police Department detectives over the last three decades. On June 26th, 1989, someone broke into her bedroom window and sexually assaulted her before killing her in cold blood—all while the rest of her family slept on, oblivious to the violence happening in the other room. Thankfully, crime scene investigators collected bodily fluids from a potential suspect then, although current forensic technology did not allow them to pinpoint the culprit.
Using genealogical DNA results, they could narrow in on Donald Cox, Jr., Fawn’s cousin, who had passed away in 2006. Though his death was not due to foul play, it was suspicious enough for the medical examiner to retain a blood sample from the investigation. Upon extraction and comparison with an existing DNA profile from the original crime scene 14 years prior, there proved to be a match. When investigators shared this discovery with Fawn’s family in November 2020, both of her still-living parents expressed sorrow yet relief that their suspicions may have been true all along.
The cold case of Jody Loomis had haunted families and police officers for 47 years, until a stunning development in 2019 when the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department identified a suspect, according to the Seattle Times. On August 23, 1972, when Jody Loomis’ body was discovered lying by a dirt road with a gunshot wound above her right ear, DNA evidence was preserved on her body and boots.
Years later, the evidence was submitted for genetic genealogy identification. It linked it to 78-year-old Terrence Miller, who lived only 17 minutes from the crime scene where Jody had been murdered. This compelled officers to arrest and charge Miller with first-degree murder. Using DNA evidence, authorities could match Miller’s genetic profile to the semen collected from Jody’s boots. Unfortunately, Miller took his own life just hours before he was to be convicted by a jury.
In May 1987, police were stymied by the death of Shannon Lloyd in Orange County, California, who was found sexually assaulted and strangled to death in her own apartment. Though a suspect wasn’t found at the time, two whole years later, in 1989, another California woman, Renee Cuevas, met with a similar destiny—and both cases were separately investigated until 2003 when CODIS (The Combined DNA Index System) revealed that their crime scenes shared the same genealogical match. However, no suspect could be pinpointed from the data collected.
In 2021, investigators turned to a revolutionary approach: using genetic genealogy to find suspects. This technique finds partial matches using an unknown individual’s sample of DNA and attempts to build a family tree based on these similarities. According to NBC Los Angeles, the DNA investigation led detectives back to Rueben Smith, who had lived in the area during both crimes. It was revealed that he had a criminal record for sexual assault and attempted murder in Las Vegas dating back to 1998; a DNA sample taken then was later used to connect him to the cold case murders. In 1999, Mr. Smith died by suicide.
After a cold case of 33 years, the mystery surrounding the 1989 murders of George and Catherine Peacock of Danby, Vermont, had finally been cracked. The couple, aged 76 and 73 at the time, had been stabbed to death in their home with no signs of forced entry.
Michael Louise, the Peacocks’ son-in-law, was identified as a suspect a few weeks later, but he remained free due to an absence of hard evidence against him. Nearly two decades later, in May 2020, according to NECN, a cold case unit from Vermont finally got its break when new forensic tests on a blood sample found in Louise’s car linked back to George Peacock. In 2022, police arrested Louise for double homicide, and justice for the Peacocks was served posthumously.
Forensic science continually evolves; sometimes fresh evidence helps crack old cases. The emerging use of DNA evidence and true crime journalism often help to unravel the truths of old mysteries.
While we do our utmost to keep abreast of changing developments in these fascinating cases, we invite you to send any updates or to recommend additional cold cases to consider to our “Contact Us” link at the bottom of the page. Thank you in advance for helping to keep others informed.
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The following criteria were used in compiling this list of 10 Solved Cold Cases:
1. Crime Committed: Each cold case on this list was related to unsolved murders, sexual assaults, or missing persons.
2. Length of Case: All cold cases in this piece are at least ten years old and, in many cases, are three to six decades old.
3. Recently Solved: All cold cases featured here were solved in 2019 or later, with a formal criminal conviction (for living criminals) or DNA evidence match (for deceased suspects).
Rachel Drummond, MEd
Rachel Drummond has given her writing expertise to ForensicsColleges.com since 2019, where she provides a unique perspective on the intersection of education, mindfulness, and the forensic sciences. Her work encourages those in the field to consider the role of mental and physical well-being in their professional success.
Rachel is a writer, educator, and coach from Oregon. She has a master’s degree in education (MEd) and has over 15 years of experience teaching English, public speaking, and mindfulness to international audiences in the United States, Japan, and Spain. She writes about the mind-body benefits of contemplative movement practices like yoga on her blog, inviting people to prioritize their unique version of well-being and empowering everyone to live healthier and more balanced lives.