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Placer cold-case closures are goal of new DNA team

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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DNA could provide the missing link in cracking some of the 40 unsolved homicide cases in Placer County. A $500,000 National Institute of Justice grant will give law enforcement the means to free up a full-time district attorney’s investigator and a sheriff’s detective for 18 months to work full-time on solving unresolved murder and sexual assault cases. District Attorney Brad Fenocchio said the intent of the new Placer County Cold Case Crimes Unit is to find and prosecute people responsible for unsolved crimes, prevent more crimes from occurring by those people, and — equally as important — help bring closure to the families of victims. Some of Placer County’s unsolved homicides are perplexing because of their lack of clues. One of them dates back to December 1977, when the body of a woman was found nude and strangled in a snowbank by a couple walking their dog near the Highway 20-Interstate 80 interchange, east of Emigrant Gap. The coroner who examined the body after its discovery said finger marks on the neck indicated she had been strangled. Known only as Jane Doe, Case No. 11929-77, the woman was never identified. She was buried 11 months after being found — in a pauper’s grave. Sometimes, the cases created widespread shock to a community but no resolution as decades go by. Mary Lloyd, 68, was abducted from an Auburn grocery store parking lot in June 1985, where she had stopped in to buy a quart of milk after going to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. Her body was later found in a nearby field. She had been stabbed to death. Her abductor drove off in her car. The car was found abandoned in Hollywood five days later. The Placer County Board of Supervisors approved acceptance of the $500,000 grant last week. The grant is one of the largest of 15 provided to California communities by the national justice institute. Fenocchio said that about 40 homicide cases in Placer County remain open, as well as an unknown number of sexual assault cases to be identified for possible DNA testing. Those cases could have biological evidence that was collected and never examined, he said. “The use of DNA has enhanced the resolution of homicides and violent crimes by pairing science with law enforcement and moving beyond traditional techniques used to solve crimes,” he said. Part of the grant will pay Department of Justice fees to process the DNA at its Sacramento lab. Scott Owens, District Attorney’s Office spokesman, said plans are to look at all unsolved homicide cases and then narrow them down to the ones that are the best candidates for DNA testing. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at Auburnjournal.com. -------- More notable Placer County cold cases Cindy Wanner — Wanner disappeared from her sister’s Granite Bay home on Nov. 25, 1991. She had been cleaning the house when the abduction occurred, leaving her 11-month-old child sitting in a high chair. Her ATM card was used at a local bank. But, tragically, the video was erased before investigators learned of the filming of a probable suspect. Wanner’s body was found in the Foresthill area three weeks later by a hunter. Despite a nationwide TV appeal, no arrest has been made. Glenn Whitten — Auburn teen Glenn Whitten was shot to death July 25, 1995, and his body was left on the rocky shore at Upper Lake Clementine. The 18-year-old was last seen alive early that morning at the Lincoln Way McDonald’s. Two suspects were later arrested but they were never charged with the shotgun slaying. Family members continue to press for resolution. This past summer, new posters were put up in the area marking the anniversary of Whitten’s death. Susan Waters — Waters’ death was not immediately determined to be a homicide but an autopsy after her Sept. 6, 2003, death showed she had been a victim of foul play. She was found behind bushes outside a Lincoln Way building in Downtown Auburn. Cause of death has not been released. Coincidentally, Waters’ only son would die shortly afterward while on duty in Iraq.