Homicide Case Unsolved For 40 Years, Solved Through DNA Evidence

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dna solves homicide caseOn Friday, January 21, 1972, officers from the Long Beach Police Department were dispatched to the 6600 block of Olive Avenue in response to a man who had just come home to find his wife stabbed to death. The case went unsolved until detectives were able to give it a second look, and advances in DNA technology allowed them to make a significant break in the case.

Homicide detectives who responded at the time conducted an investigation into the murder of the woman, identified as 58-year-old Helen Sullivan, who had also been sexually assaulted. They collected evidence, canvassed the area, and interviewed her neighbors and family members, but were unable to identify a suspect.

Forensic specialists who processed the scene lifted partial fingerprints from several surfaces inside the residence, and the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office also collected biological evidence, which was preserved.

Detectives pursued all leads available to them at the time, however the partial fingerprints proved insufficient in identifying a suspect, and DNA technology had not advanced to where it could be used by law enforcement until the mid 1980’s. The murder of Victim Sullivan would remain unsolved for 40 years until federal grant funds allowed the Long Beach Police Department to reopen their unsolved cold case murders.

In 2008 and 2009, the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) was the recipient of the funds, provided by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), to help solve cold cases through advances in DNA technology. The funding allowed the LBPD’s Cold Case Unit to focus on unsolved homicides in which biological evidence was collected and preserved, but had not yet been analyzed with the latest DNA testing methods.

Utilizing this funding, Cold Case Unit detectives regularly conduct detailed research into unsolved homicides and undetermined deaths going as far back as the early 1970’s. Cases with biological evidence suitable for DNA analysis are identified, and the grant funds cover the research, as well as the DNA testing of these cases.

Investigators located the carefully preserved biological evidence, and submitted it for analysis. A profile was identified and submitted for a search in the DNA data bank, and returned a match to an individual named Emanuel Miller.

Investigators learned that Suspect Miller, who was 36 years old at the time of Victim Sullivan’s murder, had a lengthy criminal record. Adding to the senselessness of this brutal crime was the fact that Miller did not have any known ties to Long Beach. He had been paroled to Los Angeles just prior to the murder, and investigators surmise that Miller may have been drawn to North Long Beach due to many vacant homes that were boarded up to make room for the Artesia Freeway which was under construction. The area was known for attracting crime and transients at the time.

Further research revealed that suspect Miller died in 1990, at the age of 54. Investigators delivered the news to victim Sullivan’s family, and although they would not see Miller prosecuted for the crime, they were grateful to detectives for solving the 40-year old mystery of their loved one’s murder. This case is the oldest cold case homicide to date that has been solved by the LBPD.

Police Chief Jim McDonnell stated, “Without the support of the National Institute of Justice, the cost of reopening cold cases and testing the preserved DNA evidence would be prohibitive. NIJ provides the funding that enables us to identify suspects in these cases, hold them accountable for their crimes, and most importantly, we hope that it enables us to bring some measure of peace to the families of the victims.”

Anyone who may have information regarding other unsolved murders is asked to contact the Long Beach Police Department Homicide Detail at (562) 570-7244. Anonymous tips may be submitted by e-mail or text via www.tipsoft.com. For more information about the National Institute of Justice, visit http://www.nij.gov/.

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