Sunday, October 26, 2008

DNA Solves South Daytona Cold Case

The hotels along Atlantic Boulevard are packed to the gills during Bike Week, Spring Break, and the Daytona 500 stock car race. At those events, cops have to deal with drunkenness and disorder on a regular basis. But in 1982, investigators had a bigger problem. On September 23, 66-year-old Bernice Allen [pictured] was found inside her home, raped and murdered.

Allen lived at 102 Blue Skies Drive. When she didn’t show up for her regular shift at Signorelli’s Elderly Care Facility, her employer and neighbors checked her home. Peering through a window, they saw her lying on a blood-soaked bed.

Police arrived and found Allen dead. She still had curlers in her hair and her nightgown was pulled up around her neck. Police reported that “a subsequent autopsy revealed that the death was the result of a homicide, caused by a blow to the head with a blunt object.”

A tiny spot of sperm was found on Allen’s bed-sheet, but at the time, DNA was unknown to investigators. The semen was stored in a police evidence room where it sat for nearly twenty-five years, waiting for science to catch up with a killer.

Police had no suspects in Allen’s murder, and the case eventually faded away. Then, in 1996, almost fifteen years later, five elderly women were attacked and sexually assaulted in their homes. Other homes in South Daytona were burglarized and police staked out the neighborhood. Late one night, an officer on patrol saw a man loitering around an elderly woman’s home in nearby Ormond-by-the-Sea. Thomas Morris Franklin, 53, a well-known petty criminal, was arrested.

Evidence revealed that Morris was guilty of the rapes as well as numerous burglaries. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison.

A few years later, South Daytona investigators sent the DNA sample from Bernice Allen’s old bed-sheet to the Florida State Crime Lab. It matched Thomas Franklin. In 2007, he pled guilty to her murder and was sentenced to a second life term.

While this case was finally solved, Volusia County has dozens of cold cases dating back to the 1970s.

A recent series of unsolved murders made national news. In 2005, Laquetta Gunther was raped and shot to death. In 2006, Julie Green and Iwana Patton suffered the same fate. Stacey Gage was murdered in a similar manner in 2007. Gunther, Green, and Patton were known prostitutes and Gage was a recovering drug addict. DNA linked one perpetrator to all four women.

Daytona Beach Police Chief Michael Chitwood offered a warning to the killer. “Every night,” Chitwood said, “what I want him to know is [that] we’re one day closer to getting him. Every single night when he lays his head down, he’s gotta be wondering if the SWAT team is coming through the door. ‘Cause I got one thing that’ll never change and that’s his DNA.”

In another unsolved case, police haven’t announced whether they have DNA evidence. On April 26, 1994, 15-year-old DeLand High School student Laralee Spear was abducted and murdered. Spear, a cheerleader and honor student, stepped off her bus on Deerfoot Road and disappeared. She was found hours later, a quarter of a mile from her house. She was nude and her hands had been tied. Spear had been raped and shot in the head.

Jennifer L. Duffy was attacked in her own bed on September 17, 1991. The New Smyrna Beach resident was sleeping when an intruder broke into her home and stabbed her in the chest. Her roommate, asleep on a couch in the living room, awoke to loud screams and was also stabbed. The assailant fled out the front door. Duffy died but her roommate, who was not seriously injured, was able to provide a description of a blond-haired white man with a thin build. The case remains unsolved.

On December 20, 2001, 78-year-old Leigh Abel went missing. An avid fisherman, he was surf-fishing on the National Seashore in New Smyrna Beach. Friends saw him there at about 2:00 in the afternoon. He was never seen again. A year later, Abel’s 1999 GMA Suburban was found a hundred miles away in Boca Raton. Witnesses saw a young white man exit the car but a police sketch has yielded no clues.

So far, the murderers of these victims have gotten away with it. But, like the Thomas Franklin case, sometimes long-cold cases are solved.


Susanna Hartigan said...

These cases are back in the news:

Susanna Hartigan said...

These cases are back in the news: