Forty-two years after the sexual assault and murder of Las Vegas teenager Kim Bryant, police say DNA evidence has identified her killer.
Kim Bryant, 16, goes missing after failing to meet her boyfriend at Dairy Queen and her body is found in a desert area three weeks later.
Investigators now believe Johnny Peterson, who was 19 at the time and died in 1993, is his killer.
Officials said his body’s DNA was recently tested by a Texas laboratory, and after a relative agreed to give a sample that showed a match.
“He was never on the radar as a suspect,” homicide Lieutenant Ray Spencer of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department told a news conference Monday.
Police said Kim was reported missing on January 26, 1979, when she never returned home from Western High School. Her boyfriend said that he was supposed to take her to a Dairy Queen that morning, but when he got there, she wasn’t there.
Her body was found in a desert area on February 20 of that year, and the sperm was recovered during an autopsy, Spencer said, but the case was eventually classified as a cold case.
It was tested in 2008 but no profile was found, said Kim Murga, director of laboratory services for the police department. It was tested again in January and found a foreign male profile, but it did not generate any hits to the DNA index, she said.
A donation from a local philanthropist, Justin Wu, led to advanced genetic testing through a Texas lab, officials said. This led to the birth of a relative who agreed to the trial and proved to be a family bond.
It developed a large profile and narrowed it down, said Michael Wogen, director of case management at lab company Othrum.
“We upload it to different databases, and we find people who are distantly related to that DNA, and we gradually include or exclude them as being closely related,” he said. “We work on that family tree.”
Kim’s father, Edward Elliot, thanked investigators and Wu in a statement read out by police on Monday.
“Kim was a beautiful girl with a bright future and I am glad that something is being done to help solve cases like her,” he said in the statement.
Peterson lived in Las Vegas at the time and once attended Western High School, but was not a student at the time of Kim’s murder, Spencer said. He was arrested in 1980 for a separate sexual assault, but that case was dismissed, Spencer said.
In 2018, investigators in California made arrests in decades-old “Golden State Killer” cases from the 1970s and ’80s, when genealogy and DNA from crime scenes pointed them to a suspect.
Former police officer Joseph DiAngelo, now 76, was arrested based on DNA discovered from a discarded tissue, but investigators narrowed down on him based on a genealogy website, officials said.
DeAngelo is serving life in prison without parole after pleading guilty to 13 counts of murder and 13 charges related to rape. He admitted to dozens more sexual assaults for which the statute of limitations had expired.
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