Girl, 11, Was Abducted and Killed in 1973 on Walk Home From School — and DNA Leads to Arrest
On July 6, 1973, 11-year-old Linda O’Keefe disappeared while walking home from summer school in the southern California beachside town of Corona del Mar.
To her family’s horror, her dead body was found the next day in a ditch, still wearing the dress her mother had made for her. She had been strangled and sexually assaulted.
On Tuesday, 45 years after Linda’s brutal murder, authorities arrested the man that DNA evidence from a genealogy site allegedly points to as her killer: James Alan Neal, 72, of Monument, Colorado, officials announced at a press conference Wednesday.
Detectives from Newport Beach arrested Neal at 6:29 a.m. in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis said at the press conference.
Neal is charged with murder, kidnapping during the commission of murder and lewd and lascivious acts upon a child under 14 in the beachside town of Corona del Mar, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said.
Neal is being held in the El Paso County Jail in Colorado. He could be brought to California sometime this week if he waives extradition, Spitzer said.
It is unclear whether he has retained a lawyer who can speak on his behalf.
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Although Linda died almost half a century ago, her family, the community and members of law enforcement never stopped thinking of her or hoping her killer would be brought to justice, Spitzer said.
“People in the city of Newport Beach have been following this case for literally 45 years,” Spitzer said.
“Yet for 45 years the Newport Beach Police Department never gave up. The detectives dogged this case. The community made sure that justice would be secured,” he said.
Shortly after Linda’s murder, investigators recovered DNA evidence from her remains, Spitzer said.
The DNA sample from her dress was entered into the CODIS system in 2001 but came up empty, he said.
Detectives from the Newport Beach Police Department kept investigating.
Taking advantage of the latest in crime-solving techniques, in January, Spitzer said, “they received a pointer indication through genealogical DNA.”
Combining the “latest” in DNA technology with “old-fashioned” detective work led investigators to Neal, Lewis said.
Suspect Changed His Name After Linda’s Death
Neal currently lives in Colorado, but investigators were able to confirm that he lived in California in the 1970s, when Linda was murdered, Spitzer said.
“He had a connection to southern California, which has been corroborated,” he said.
After Linda’s death, Neal moved to Florida, where he changed his name to James Alan George Leyton, Spitzer said. Later he moved to Colorado, where he was living when he was arrested, he said.
On the day Linda disappeared, she was last seen talking to a stranger in a van, Lewis said.
“Linda never made it home that afternoon,” he said.
Her parents checked with friends and searched the neighborhood and the path she took home “to no avail,” Lewis said.
“Then her mother made that call that every parent dreads” and told police her daughter was missing, he said.
As part of an effort to renew interest in the case, the Newport Beach Police Department used their Twitter account to recount the story of Linda’s life, mysterious disappearance and death.
“Generations of investigators worked on her case,” said Lewis. “We never gave up.”
Anyone who may have any information on this unsolved crime is asked to call the Newport Beach Police Cold Case Tip Line at 949-644-3669.
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