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Santa Ana 1978 cold case solved using familial DNA

November 4, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
In the first case of its kind in Orange County, a decades-old murder mystery in Santa Ana has been solved with the help of DNA from the suspect's relatives.

On July 10, 1978, Lynda Saunders, then 26, and 28-year-old co-worker Michael Reynolds were confronted by suspects as they sat in Reynolds' car outside a restaurant in Santa Ana. Detectives say Reynolds was shot during the attempted robbery.

"He had a single gunshot wound to the back of the head," said Santa Ana Police Det. Jim Garcia.

Detectives say Reynolds lay in the parking lot for about four hours before a nearby worker heard his cries for help and called police.

Reynolds survived, but not far away, officers found Saunders' purse, and soon after, her body.

"She had single gunshot wound to her chest. She was found deceased and later found she had been sexually assaulted," said Garcia.

Her killer remained unknown until now, thanks to DNA gathered at the crime scene that led police to James Brown.

But the discovery did not come easy. Once brown had been identified as a suspect, detectives learned he had committed suicide in 1996 and his body had been cremated. DNA could not be retrieved.

So for the first time in Orange County, detectives used familial DNA to compare the DNA from the crime scene, and got a match.

"I did call Mr. Reynolds. He was happy that there was at least some closure in this case, not only for him, also especially for Linda Saunders and her family," said Santa Ana Police Det. Domingo Cabrera.

Detectives believe without technology, the case would have remained unsolved.

"It's just amazing. I'm sure there are going to be many more cases solved because of this familial search DNA analysis," said Garcia.


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