Young girl’s murder haunted Newport Beach police until arrest made 45 years later – Arrest also made in 1990 kidnap and murder of 11-year-old boy in LA

This undated photo provided by the Newport Beach Police Department shows Linda O'Keefe. James Neal, 72, was arrested in Colorado Springs, Colo., and charged with murder with special circumstances in the death of O'Keefe, who was found strangled in 1973, a case that has long shaken the seaside community of Newport Beach, Calif., Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said. (Newport Beach Police Department via AP)

By AMY TAXIN,  Associated Press  SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) 02/20 — Investigators searched for decades for the killer of an 11-year-old girl who disappeared while walking home from summer school in a case that gripped a California seaside community.

A photo of a smiling Linda O’Keefe has hung for years on the wall of the police department in Newport Beach, reminding investigators to keep pressing forward on cold cases like hers.

More than four decades later, authorities in Southern California said Wednesday that a Colorado man has been arrested and charged with killing her in 1973. The announcement came the same day authorities said they charged a man with killing an 11-year-old boy near Los Angeles in 1990.

In Linda’s case, authorities said they got a hit last month from a genealogical database that matched a DNA sample taken when her body was found strangled in a ditch a day after she went missing. Increasingly, investigators have found a powerful tool in databases made up of DNA samples submitted by people seeking to learn about their ancestry.

This photo shows a poster of James Neal during a news conference at the Orange County District Attorney’s office in Santa Ana, Calif., Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. Cold case detectives have arrested suspects including Neal in the separate Southern California murders of a girl in 1973 and a boy in 1990, authorities said Wednesday. Both victims disappeared while walking home from school. (Paul Bersebach/The Orange County Register via AP)

 

“The detectives dogged this case,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer told reporters, declining to say whether the suspect or his relatives submitted DNA for genealogical purposes. “We have every opportunity in the world to solve so many of these cold cases that we never had hope in the past of solving.”

James Neal, 72, was arrested in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Tuesday and charged with murder with special circumstances, Spitzer said.

“He seemed like a good guy,” Neal’s landlord, Michael Thulson, told the Colorado Springs Gazette. “I had no indication he was capable of anything even 10 steps less than this, which just shows you what you don’t know.”

Neal’s son-in-law told the newspaper that the family was not ready to comment. It was not immediately clear if Neal had an attorney who could speak on his behalf, and the voicemail was full on a number listed for him.

Neal was due to appear in court in Colorado on Thursday.

In Los Angeles County, authorities said Edward Donell Thomas, 50, has been charged in connection with kidnapping and killing William Tillett. The boy disappeared in 1990 while walking home from school in Inglewood, and his body was found in a dark carport later that day. The coroner determined he had been suffocated.

Hubert Tillett, right, brother of William Tillett, stands behind a display showing his brother, bottom left, during a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, in Inglewood, Calif. Authorities say a 50-year-old man is in custody in connection with the kidnapping and killing of then 11-year-old William Tillett in Southern California nearly three decades ago. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

 

A combination of old evidence and “advanced technology” led to Thomas, Inglewood Police Chief Mark Fronterotta told reporters without releasing details.

Fronterotta said investigators don’t believe Thomas acted alone. He and the boy’s brother urged anyone with information to come forward.

“I just want to keep the momentum going” so the family can have closure, Hubert Tillett said.

The police chief was on the force at the time and said the case left “an indelible mark in my mind, in my heart.”

Thomas was being held without bail, and it wasn’t known if he had an attorney. His arraignment is scheduled for April 4.

In Newport Beach, O’Keefe was walking home from summer school in July 1973 when she vanished. She was last seen talking to a stranger in a van and never made it home, police Chief Jon Lewis said.

Her family and friends searched for her and called police. The next morning, her body was found.

Authorities said they never gave up the search for her killer, even after decades passed and her parents had died. The suspect’s DNA profile was uploaded to a criminal database in 2001 but there were no hits for years, authorities said.

They got a hit this year on a genealogical database, leading investigators to obtain a DNA sample from Neal, and it matched, Spitzer said.

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer speaks during a news conference at the OCDA’s office in Santa Ana, Calif., Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. Cold case detectives have arrested suspects in the separate Southern California murders of a girl in 1973 and a boy in 1990, authorities said Wednesday. Both victims disappeared while walking home from school. (Paul Bersebach/The Orange County Register via AP)

 

Neal lived in Southern California at the time of O’Keefe’s killing and moved to Florida soon afterward, where he changed his name, Spitzer said. The prosecutor declined to say whether Neal has a criminal record.

O’Keefe’s two living sisters have been told about the arrest, authorities said. Over the years, hundreds of people have worked on the case, the police chief said.

One of them was now-retired Newport Beach police Officer Stan Bressler, who said O’Keefe’s death stunned the community and was never forgotten.

“Every once in a while, you just think, ‘Gee, I wonder if we’ll ever find him,'” he said.

___

Associated Press writer Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

 

https://www.apnews.com/d4c1b0e764bf4b29ab4750e644a21c91

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Posted in: Arrests, Cold Cases, Crime & Criminals, Deaths, DNA Evidence, Evidence, Homicide, Murder/Attempted Murder, Victims of Crime

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

20 + 2 =

Terms of Use for Posting Comments

Terms of Use

This site (the “Site”) is operated and maintained by Law Enforcement Education Foundation, Corporation (“Company”). Throughout the Site, the terms “we”, “us” and “our” refer to Company.  The words “user,” “you” and “your” as used herein refer to you.

Please read these terms and conditions of use (“Terms of Use”) carefully before contributing content. If you do not agree to these Terms of Use, please do not contribute content. Your use of the Site is subject to the Terms and Conditions found here .

By contributing content to the Site, you represent and warrant that you are at least eighteen (18) years old and that you have read and understand these Terms of Use and any amendments thereto and agree to be bound by them. If you are not at least eighteen (18) years old or you do not agree and accept these Terms of Use, you are prohibited from contributing content.

From time to time, we may permit users to submit content to the Site.  You hereby acknowledge and agree that by submitting remarks, comments, suggestions, ideas, graphics, feedback, edits, concepts, comments, photographs, illustrations and other materials (other than personal information and/or registration information) through the Site (individually and collectively, “Submissions”), you (i) grant us a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable and fully sub-licensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, translate, distribute, publish, create derivative works from and publicly display and perform such Submissions throughout the world in any media, now known or hereafter created, without attribution to you; (ii) grant us the right to pursue at law any person or entity that violates your and/or our rights in your Submissions; and (iii) forever waive any and all of your rights, including but not limited to moral rights, if any, in and to your Submissions, including, without limitation, any all rights or requirements of attribution or identification of you as the author of the Submission or any derivative thereof.  We reserve the right to remove any of your Submissions from the Site, in whole or in part, without notice to you, for any reason or no reason.

Submissions are made voluntarily. Any submissions which include personally identifiable information are subject to our Privacy Policy found here .  You may not upload or otherwise publish content on the Site that (i) is confidential to you or any third party; (ii) is untrue, inaccurate, false or other than an original work of your authorship; (iii) that relates to or impersonates any other person; (iv) violates the copyright, trademark, patent or other intellectual property rights of any person or entity; (v) contains any content, personally identifiable information or other information, or materials of any kind that relate or refer to any other person or entity other than the provider of the products, goods or services to which the Submission relates; or (vi) violates any law, or in any manner infringes or interferes with the rights of others, including but not limited to the use of names, information, or materials that (A) libel, defame, or invade the privacy of any third party, (B) are obscene or pornographic, (C) are harmful, threatening, offensive, abusive, harassing, vulgar, false or inaccurate, racially, sexually, ethnically or are otherwise objectionable or otherwise contrary to the laws of any place where such Submissions may be accessed; (D) constitute personal attacks on other individuals; (E) promote criminal, immoral or illegal activity; (F) promote or advertise any person, product or service or solicit funds; or (G) are deemed confidential by any contract or policy.

You are solely responsible for any Submissions you make and their accuracy. We take no responsibility and assume no liability for any Submissions posted by you or any third party.

Unless approved by us in writing in advance, you agree not to: (i) provide or create a link to the Site; or (ii) create any frames at any other sites pertaining to any of the content located on the Site.

We reserve the right, in our discretion, to update, change or replace any part of these Terms of Use for Posting Comments by posting updates and/or changes to our Site.  It is your responsibility to check this page periodically for changes.  Your continued use of, and/or access to the Site, following the posting of any changes to these Terms of Use for Posting Comments, constitutes your acceptance of those changes.