Linda O'Keefe murder: Inside the investigation
On the 45th anniversary of Linda O'Keefe's murder, the Newport Beach Police Department created the Twitter thread, #LindasStory. The series of 68 tweets, told through Linda's point of view, drew readers in with details about her life as well as foreboding moments of her last day.
An Idea Forms
Linda O'Keefe's case went cold long ago. Needing a way to bring her story back into the public, Newport Beach Police Sgt. Court Depweg consulted with Jen Manzella, then the spokeswoman for the department, on how to do just that. Right away, Manzella suggested Twitter. "It was so important for me … to give a little girl whose life was cut short at 11 years old the opportunity to speak again," she said. "Linda is gonna help us find this man who did this to her."
Who is Linda O'Keefe?
Linda, pictured front row left, was the middle child in her family of five. Her dad, Richard, was a machinist and they shared a special bond. Her mom, Barbara, was an artist and working seamstress. Linda's older sister, Cindy, says their mom sewed most of their clothes.
"A Gentle, Lovely Soul"
According to Linda's sister, Cindy Borgeson, Linda was a "very gentle, lovely soul," who loved Billie Holiday and Nancy Drew. Linda was a Girl Scout and nature lover. Cindy says their family would vacation in the Redwoods and Linda would crouch down and little newts and snakes would come right up to her. She says Linda saw the beauty in the world, "and always seemed to see the good in people."
July 6, 1973
On Friday, July 6, 1973, 11-year-old Linda O'Keefe attended summer school at Lincoln Intermediate School in Corona Del Mar, California. Normally she rode her bike to school, but on this day, she got a ride from her piano teacher.
Linda Calls Her Mom
Without her bike and not wanting to walk home, Linda, pictured right, called her mom at the end of school from the school office and begged her for a ride home. Cindy overheard her mom's end of the call telling Linda she was too busy with work to pick her up and to walk home.
No Ride Home
Linda, upset and crying, eventually left the school office. She sat on the curb in front of the school for a little bit before beginning her walk.
What Witnesses Saw
Around 1:15 p.m. that day, less than an hour after Linda called for a ride, a young woman named Janine, who goes by Jandi, pictured left, and her mother spotted Linda talking to a white man in a turquoise van near the intersection of Marguerite and Inlet Drive. The women lived a few houses down from Linda's family and thought the scene was odd, but didn't think it was dangerous.
It was the last time anyone saw Linda alive.
Where is Linda?
As dinner time approached and Linda still hadn't returned home, her mother started to get worried. After calling friends and driving around the neighborhood, Linda's mom called police. An intensive search for Linda began.
July 7, 1973
The search for Linda lasted through the night and into the next morning. On the morning of July 7, 1973, a local architect named Ron Yeo was biking along a nature trail known as the Back Bay with his young son. When Yeo went to show his son a spot to find frogs, he instead made a gruesome discovery. He found Linda O'Keefe's body.
A Homicide Investigation
Linda was still wearing the dress her mom made for her and carrying a homemade bookbag. The Orange County Coroner's Office found that Linda had been sexually assaulted and strangled and her death was ruled a homicide. But detectives couldn't figure out who killed her.
Looking for the Killer
The sleepy beach town of Corona Del Mar was shaken after Linda's murder. While police were trying to find her killer, Linda's classmates wanted to find him too. "Our 11-year-old selves, we all got on our bikes, and we all wanted to help," said Terry Briscoe Corwin. They searched for the van all around town, but just like police, they didn't find anything.
A New Composite
Decades later, investigators got a break. A forward-thinking criminalist at the time of Linda's murder had collected swabs of the killer's semen from Linda's body and preserved it. As technology advanced, a DNA profile of an unidentified suspect was generated. In October 2017, Newport Beach Sgt. Depweg hired a company called Parabon NanoLabs to take the suspect's DNA and generate a Snapshot -- a composite based on the suspect's genetic characteristics.
What is His Name?
Newport Beach Police ended their Twitter thread, #LindasStory, with the new composite, revealing it to the public for the first time. They asked a question that has haunted investigators for decades: What is his name?
Linda's Classmates Remember
Linda's classmates never forgot about what happened. When #LindasStory was published, they waited anxiously to see if anything would come of it. Terry Briscoe Corwin says, "We were all together on pins and needles waiting to see … who is this guy?" #LindasStory didn't directly lead investigators to Linda's killer but Sgt. Depweg says, "it paid off big time."
An Arrest is Made
On February 19, 2019 — more than 45 years after her sister was murdered — Cindy Borgeson received a call from Sgt. Depweg telling her that they had arrested her sister's killer. "I was so excited. I felt, I wish my parents were here to hear this news."