I-Team: DNA links 2 cold cases, points to possible suspect

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Two terrible crimes — separated by years — now appear to be connected, thanks to DNA evidence.

One is a murder that was committed in 1998. The other is a sexual assault that occurred six years later. DNA testing now confirms that the same suspect was involved with both victims.

To help solve these crimes and others in the cold case files, Sheriff Joe Lombardo coaxed two veteran homicide detectives out of retirement to work nothing but unsolved cases. 

Now, they’re asking the public to take a look at video they obtained which shows the face of the principal suspect.

On May 6, 1998, the picturesque serenity of Red Rock Canyon was shattered by a gruesome discovery.

The tip to police came from a pay phone at a convenience store on Blue Diamond Road, but when officers arrived 10 minutes later, the caller was gone.

Police quickly found the murder scene and the victim, an unknown female, splayed out under a Joshua tree  50 feet from the asphalt of State Route 159 near Oliver Ranch.

“It appeared there was an extensive struggle,” said Dean O’Kelley, a homicide investigator. “She was naked from the waist down. She did have a skirt that was pulled up around her abdomen, her t-shirt was in place but she was obviously bludgeoned to death. There were signs of major head trauma. There was blood in different locations.”

The victim’s head wounds — too numerous and gory to show on television — may have been caused by a rock. No murder weapon was located. The original investigators figured out the dead woman was Annie Miller, whose identity card hinted she’d been homeless.

“Annie Miller is described by everyone we talked to as a gypsy. She had a homeless card, giving her access to a shelter. She was kind of a transient,” O’Kelley said.

“She is an innocent victim. She deserves justice as much as anyone else,” said Ken Hefner, a homicide investigator.  

Veteran homicide detectives Ken Hefner and Dean O’Kelley retired from Metro a few years ago but have now returned to work unsolved murders — cold cases.  

There are hundreds of them, stacked floor to ceiling in black binders, filling two rooms at Metro. The not-so-new guys can pursue any case that interests them,  so why Annie Miller?

“We just audited a backlog of DNA hits for the lab. We’re clarifying those, getting them distilled down,” Hefner said.

In a nutshell, DNA evidence has given new life to old cases, including the Miller murder.  In 2012, some 14 years after Miller’s body was discovered and most leads in the case had been exhausted, the DNA lab surprisingly found a match. 

A semen sample taken from Miller’s body was identical to a sample obtained from a sexual assault victim who’s been raped in 2004, six years after the murder.

“The ’98 case, an unknown profile was developed from it. It went into CODIS, then the sexual assault case was worked, that profile was worked. The database is what made the match for us,” said Kellie Gauthier, LVMPD forensic lab DNA manager.. 

Police pieced together the last few days of Miller’s life. She spent a few nights in a trailer park on south Lamb Boulevard, staying with a guy she had just met.

The night before her death, Miller and the trailer guy gambled for a few hours at Boulder Station, then he dropped her off at a place Metro knows well — the Manor on Boulder Highway. The next day, her body was found on the other side of the valley, the victim of an attack so vicious it almost seemed personal.

Six years later, in 2004, a deaf woman, similar in appearance to annie miller, was picked up by a motorist on Lake Mead Boulevard at Rock Springs Drive.  the driver agreed to buy the woman a bite to eat so they pulled into this Wendy’s on West Cheyenne Avenue.

He forgot that fast food windows use security cameras. The camera captured images of the man who raped the deaf woman at knifepoint and then left her naked on Kyle Canyon Road, frightened but alive.

“As they went through the drive-through, you can see a vehicle which we believe to be a 2003-2004 Nissan Altima, dark color, and you can see the front grill come into view and as the vehicle pulls forward, you can see the driver. He’s a white male adult, appears to be fairly tall,” O’Kelley said.

Detectives are confident that the man in the video raped the deaf woman. The crime lab has his DNA from the rape case, and it matches DNA found six years earlier on Miller’s body. 

The boxy robots in Metro’s crime lab are constantly searching for other DNA matches which might connect the same suspect to other crimes. Since he was still in Las Vegas years after Miller was murdered, chances are, he thinks he got away with it.  The detectives hope the public can help to nail the suspect.

“They are definitely linked. The same male deposited semen in both locations, no question about that,” O’Kelley said.

“This video is not too bad. We’re hoping somebody will be able to look at it and say, hey, that’s so and so, and we can go from there,” Hefner said.

The suspect is a white male, thin build, perhaps 5-foot-10-inches or taller. His age is a guess, but it looked like he was in his late 20s or early 30s in 2004 so he would be in his late 30s or early 40’s today.  He had severe acne or acne scars, and back then, was driving a recently purchased, dark-colored Nissan Altima. He was a smoker, the rape victim says.

Police have lost contact with the second victim and are also asking the public for help in locating her.

If anyone has information on the suspect or the second victim, please call (702) 828-8973 or email ColdCaseHomicide@lvmpd.com.

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