EL PASO (AP) — A call to El Paso detectives from a woman curious about the stabbing death of her grandmother 45 years ago has led to the arrest in Mississippi of a man who was serving in the Army at Fort Bliss at the time of the slaying, police said.
El Paso police said Monday that 70-year-old Willie James Johnson was arrested Sept. 28 in Madison County, Mississippi, on a murder charge in the death of 21-year-old Doris Rivers. He faces extradition. It was not clear if he had an attorney.
Detective Michael Aman says Johnson may have wanted a romantic relationship with Rivers, but the feelings weren’t reciprocated.
Rivers was found slain at her home on Nov. 12, 1970. According to the initial police investigation, she had a 5-year-old son and lived with her sister, Barbara Covington. Police say Rivers was killed while her sister and son were at the movies.
After getting a call from Rivers’ granddaughter in 2013, detectives reopened the case.
“She had very little information about the death of her grandma so she really just wanted some information,” Aman said. “All she knew is that her grandma had been killed, but she wasn’t sure if we ever caught the killer or not or what the circumstances were — she really didn’t know that it was unsolved.”
Aman said he initially thought that solving the case was a long shot because of the age of the case. But detectives at the time of the slaying saved the fingernail clippings from Rivers’ hands.
“What makes the case extraordinary is the age and the fact that this little piece of physical evidence was collected back then and was still available to us,” Aman said. “Back then there was no technology, they could not do anything with it — there was no DNA in the 1970s.”
Detectives were able to match the DNA to Johnson because he had been a suspect in the initial investigation, Aman said.
Officials said Johnson gave his consent for a DNA sample and the results were a match to the DNA found on the fingernails.
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