Hi, I'm Linda... I Was Murdered': Police Use 11-Year-Old Girl's Story to Catch Her Killer
46 years after losing their child to a murderer that got away with his crime unpunished, a family has a new opportunity for closure and justice after the police reopened the case and used social media to finally make an arrest.
The Newport Beach Police Department gave it a new try to find the murderer of Linda O’Keefe, who was captured and killed on July 6, 1973, after leaving summer school at age 11, taking advantage of technology that didn’t exist back then.
On July 2018, when the murder of O’Keefe reached its 45th anniversary, the authorities came up with a new strategy to gather new leads that could shed some light on the person responsible for this heinous crime.
“Hi. I’m Linda O’Keefe (or Linda ANN O’Keefe, if I’m in trouble with my mom). Forty-five years ago today, I disappeared from Newport Beach. I was murdered and my body was found in the Back Bay. My killer was never found. Today, I’m going to tell you my story.” #LindasStory pic.twitter.com/G25n2IppZb— Newport Beach Police (@NewportBeachPD) July 6, 2018
NEW TECHNOLOGY FOR AN OLD CASE
Using its official Twitter account and the hashtag #LindasStory the police department revisited the victim’s last day in detail through a series of “live tweets” written in the first person as if by Linda herself.
Six months later, as improbable as it sounds, the police department announced that the strategy paid off, after James Alan Neal from Colorado was arrested in relation with the teenage girl’s death.
The idea of turning to social media responded to the need of bringing the case back to the public spotlight with the addition of a computer’s reconstruction of the suspect’s appearance obtained from his DNA in 2018.
“I’m wearing a dress today… It’s white, with light blue flowers on it, and dark blue trim. My mom made it. She makes a lot of my clothes, and my sisters’ clothes. She’s really good at sewing, and we don’t have a lot of money for fancy store outfits anyhow.” #LindasStory pic.twitter.com/9sucqJsnGg— Newport Beach Police (@NewportBeachPD) July 6, 2018
One way or another, the innovative method was effective enough to lead the police to the first arrest made in relation to the incident that happened decades ago.
“I am committed to protecting the community. My office will never forget about cold cases. Our hearts go out to the victim and the victim’s family in this case, having to endure decades without answers. We will make sure that the defendant is fairly and justly held accountable in a court of law.”
-Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, The Orange County Register, February 19, 2019.
“Usually, I ride my bike to school. The ride home is easy, because it’s almost all downhill. But today, I got a ride to school, so no bike. I’m going to call my mom and see if she’ll pick me up, so I don’t have to walk home.” #LindasStory pic.twitter.com/xAouON1DrC— Newport Beach Police (@NewportBeachPD) July 6, 2018
AN UNEXPECTED CALL
O’Keefe’s sister Cindy Borgeson, who was 18 years old by the time the victim’s life was cut short after been sexually assaulted and strangled, had come to terms with the fact that the person who committed this crime was never going to be caught.
After turning to her Christian faith to forgive the unknown perpetrator of her little sister’s killing, and with little hope in the results the social media strategy the police informed her they were going to put into practice, Borgeson was shocked.
“The van is parked along the curb, just before the intersection of Marguerite and Inlet Drive. The front passenger door is open, and I’m standing right beside it. Jannine will remember that she sees the driver: a man, white, in his mid-20s or early 30s.” #LindasStory pic.twitter.com/Q2A1mTSyYp— Newport Beach Police (@NewportBeachPD) July 6, 2018
“I really in my wildest dreams never thought this would be the outcome,” Borgeson told Los Angeles Times.
“She would have been 57 this year. I wonder sometimes what kind of life she would have lived. Would she be married? Have a family? Probably. I don’t dwell on that because that wasn’t her outcome,” she added.
“No luck. I’m a Girl Scout, and a member of the Corona del Mar Youth Center, so there’s a few places to check. I stopped going to the CdM Community Church a few months ago, but they check there too, just in case.” #LindasStory pic.twitter.com/qeQb6VuQIO— Newport Beach Police (@NewportBeachPD) July 7, 2018
DNA AT THE SERVICE OF THE LAW
Thanks to genealogical DNA and social media, the investigators could finally guess the suspect’s appearance and put a name to that face, which ended in the arrest of the 72-year-old Neal.
“The suspect has been charged with special circumstances murder, kidnapping and lewd and lascivious acts on a minor under 14 in connection with Linda’s death” according to Los Angeles Times.
“But now, 45 yrs later, I have a voice again. And I have something important to say. There is a new lead in my case: a face. A face that comes from DNA that the killer left behind. It’s technology that didn’t exist back in 1973, but it might change everything today.” #LindasStory pic.twitter.com/GsZClKFwPj— Newport Beach Police (@NewportBeachPD) July 7, 2018
“Through both traditional DNA and genealogical DNA, we have every opportunity in the world to solve so many of these cold cases that we never had hoped in the past of solving — and that’s a great thing for our community,” Spitzer celebrated.
Genealogical DNA proved its value as a crime-solving resource in 2018, when Joseph James DeAngelo, accused of serial raping and killing in California in the ‘70s and ‘80s, was caught thanks to it.
It is far from the first time when social media has been key to solve a case that the police thought to be a dead end. The speed and hyperconnectivity of today’s social media turn millions of users into potential police collaborators.
There’s even an entire online community called “Websleuths” solely devoted to exchanging evidence of cold cases involving murders and missing persons.
Apart from finding murderers, “Websleuths” uses its thousands of users to identify unclaimed bodies found by the authorities, by going through yearbooks, social media, and public records to help to return those bodies to family members.
But sometimes all it takes is the good old TV to identify someone guilty of a crime. The murder of a child tried to compensate and remove any suspicion about him by befriending the child’s parents and becoming very involved in the investigation.
But when boy language experts working for the police studied the declarations this man named Darren Vickers, from the UK, it was evident that he was lying, and this ultimately led to him being charged with the killing of 8-year-old Jamie Lavis.