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A man has been arrested through DNA and genetic genealogy in the decades-old killing of 11-year-old Linda Ann O'Keefe, who was strangled to death in Southern California in the US in 1973, authorities revealed on Wednesday - and it was all down to live-tweeting the events of the cold case and the awareness it raised.
The Newport Beach Police Department said that Linda - a 4-foot-tall little girl with long brown hair and blue eyes - was last seen alive on the 6th July 1973, as she walked home from summer school and her body was found the next day.
Decades went by without an arrest being made. But Colorado Orange County District Attorney (Todd Spitzer, who was just 12 year old at the time of the murder) announced that her suspected killer, James Neal, who lived in the area at the time of the killing, was arrested this week in his Colorado home.
At the time of the crime, Neal worked in construction but left California after the alleged killing and went to Florida, where he changed his name.
DA Spitzer revealed that while DNA was recovered from Linda's body shortly after her body was found and put into the Combined DNA Index System (the law enforcement database known as CODIS) - but there wasn't a match.
Then last month, through genealogical DNA, investigators corroborated the DNA from Linda's body and the DNA obtained from the suspect.
DA Spitzer stated that it's not clear if Neal, 72, will waive extradition from Colorado to California to face trial.
Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis said at the news conference, "We have never forgotten Linda."
And while her parents have since died, Spitzer said that sisters have been notified about the arrest.
The new investigative technique of genetic genealogy takes an unknown killer's DNA from a crime scene and identifies the suspect through his or her family members who voluntarily submit their DNA to genealogy databases like 23andMe.
CeCe Moore, chief genetic genealogist with Parabon NanoLabs said that, since April of last year, Parabon's and other lab's genetic genealogy has helped identify more than three dozen suspects.
And 45 years after Lindas' body was found, police released sketches of her suspected killer using Parabon's DNA-based predictions of the suspect's eye, hair and skin colour - with a historic, as well as current-day, version of what he might look like.
Authorities revealed in Wednesday's conference that the lead that caused the events resulting in Neal's arrest came after the sketches were released.
The police department also "live-tweeted" O'Keefe's story from her perspective last year, narrating the final day of her life in real-time, exactly 45 years after she'd died.
"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
The Twitter campaign didn't lead to an arrest at the time, but brought the cold case to the public and law officials' attention again.
Police state that Linda rode her bike to summer school ordinarily but had been dropped off in a car on the day she was killed.
Linda was waiting to use the school phone when she went outside.
A friend of Linda's told police a turquoise van stopped and talked to Linda as she walked.
Linda then went back inside and called her mother from the school office, who told her to walk home because she was busy sewing.
"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
A woman later told police she saw Linda standing next to what was apparently the same turquoise van as earlier and talking to a white man in his mid-20s or early 30s who was driving.
When Linda never arrived home, her family called the police and officers joined the search.
A woman who lives near where her body was found, heard a voice scream, "Stop, you're hurting me," that night, police said.
The next day, a man visiting the area found Linda's strangled body.
The police are continuing their investigations.
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