Investigators identified a 9-year-old girl's killer more than 50 years after she was abducted less than a block from her Georgia home, officials said Monday.
Debbie Lynn Randall, a third-grade student, vanished on Jan. 13, 1972, Cobb County District Attorney Flynn Broady said. She had been on her way home from a laundromat. Randall's body was found 16 days later after an extensive search by thousands of people. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled.
"As time went on, detectives followed up on hundreds of leads to no avail," Broady said.
That changed with the advances in DNA and forensic technology. During the original investigation, officers with the Marietta Police Department recovered a hair from the suspect and a piece of cloth, Broady said. An October 2001 FBI test on the hair allowed investigators to rule out many potential suspects.
In May of 2015, the cloth recovered by police was sent to forensics for an updated analysis, which resulted in a partial profile attributed to an unknown male. Additional funding was obtained for DNA testing in 2019 and the cloth was analyzed again in 2022. This year, DNA Labs International was selected to conduct further testing.
They were able to find relatives of the suspect, officials said. Those relatives gave investigators additional DNA samples for comparison. Investigators landed on a man who had not been on their radar at any point during the investigation: William Rose, 24. He'd killed himself in 1974.
"We exhumed the suspect's body for DNA testing to rule out any doubts," Broady said.
Debbie Lynn Randall's parents died without ever knowing who killed their daughter, Broady said. Her mother died of leukemia in 2018 and her father died just last year.
"The answers provided today will not bring her back and we cannot extract justice from the perpetrator, but I know he must answer to a higher power," Broady said.
Randall's brother, Melvin, was there Monday at the news conference as William Rose was identified.
"I wish my mother was here, but I know she's in heaven now and it's finally over and we just want to say that we thank all of you for what you've done in making this day come to pass," he said.
Ron Alter, a cold case investigator with the district attorney's office, doesn't believe Rose knew Randall. Rose had family members in the area, so he was likely around often.
"If he drove by, I'm sure he saw her. I believe that was a crime of opportunity. He saw her by herself and abducted her," Alter said.
Rose had prior arrests for alcohol-related incidents. Alter said it's possible Rose killed himself because he was afraid of going to jail.
Alter and Broady both attributed success in the case to advances in DNA testing. Broady stressed that those tools will be used to investigate other cases.
"It may take us some time, but with the new technologies that are coming out every day, we're going to do everything we can to solve our cold cases, to make sure we bring people to justice," Broady said.
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