A former U.S. Marine whose DNA ties him to a 1976 homicide near a California military base was arrested last month in Louisiana after he was tracked down through genealogy websites, authorities said.
Eddie Lee Anderson, 66, was arrested May 24 at his home in River Ridge, a suburb of New Orleans. According to Orange County Sheriff’s Department officials, he remains jailed in Plaquemines Parish on suspicion of murder in the May 17, 1976, slaying of Leslie Penrod Harris.
Harris, 30, was found dead by military policemen around 4:30 a.m. the following day on a roadway near Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, which was decommissioned in 1999. Her body was nude and she had been strangled.
According to news clippings from the time of the killing, Harris and her husband had recently moved to California from Hawaii and were living in a nearby hotel while searching for permanent housing.
“Through both traditional DNA and genealogical DNA, we now have the opportunity to solve decades-old cases that would have otherwise been left unsolved,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement. “These victims and their families have been waiting for justice for decades, and the addition of genealogical DNA is now helping us to advance our efforts to achieve justice for crime victims.”
Sheriff’s Department officials said Harris had dinner with her husband at a restaurant in Costa Mesa, about 15 miles from the base, the night she died. She stepped out of the restaurant alone around 8:30 p.m., but never returned.
Harris’ husband reported her missing when the restaurant closed for the night and there was still no sign of her, authorities said.
“Orange County Sheriff’s Department investigators canvassed nearby businesses and reached out to taxicab companies, with no results,” department officials said in a news release. “At the time, investigators believed the suspect to have a military connection, as the place where Harris’ body was discovered was an area unknown to the public surrounding the base.
“After exhausting all investigative leads, the case went cold.”
The evidence, particularly swabs containing DNA evidence collected during Harris’ autopsy, was reexamined in 1997 as advancements in DNA technology were underway. The search for a suspect yielded no results at that time, authorities said.
The case was picked up once again in 2016 as law enforcement agencies across the country began utilizing familial DNA to search criminal databases for family members of potential suspects in cold cases. Again, detectives had no luck finding Harris’ killer.
“In August 2018, sheriff’s investigators assigned to the Orange County Homicide Task Force began utilizing genealogy techniques to possibly identify a suspect,” the department’s news release said. “In 2019, investigators had a lead to start building a genealogy profile and, working with the FBI’s Investigative Genealogy Team, were able to identify Anderson as a person of interest.”
Investigators began looking into Anderson’s past and learned he enlisted in the Marines in the early 1970s, authorities said. At the time of Harris’ slaying, Anderson was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro.
The then-23-year-old Marine lived less than a mile from the restaurant where Harris and her husband ate the night she was killed, investigators learned.
Detectives traveled to the New Orleans area to interview Anderson, who gave a DNA sample. He was booked into the Plaquemines Parish Jail in Davant, where he remained Wednesday awaiting an extradition hearing, authorities said.
“Even when leads seemingly run cold -- in this case spanning more than four decades -- our investigators never stop utilizing new technology and any resource necessary to solve cases, bring justice to victims, and provide much-needed closure to their families,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said.
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