Yet another decade’s old cold case has been solved this month with the help of genetic genealogy databases and this time it’s the long unsolved murder of 11 year old Terri Lynn Hollis.
On Thanksgiving Day, November 23rd, 1972, 11 year old Terri Lynn Hollis and her 16 year old brother, Randy, were at their home in Torrance, California. Terri was restless and went to play outside on her bike at around 3PM, never to return.
The local police were alerted and Terri was officially reported as missing. Officers, who arrived at the girls home at around 9PM, searched throughout the night but could not locate the missing child. The following day fishermen over 70 miles away discovered the body of a little girl near the shoreline at the bottom of cliff at Point Mugu near Oxnard. The female child was in a state of undress, naked with the exception of a white T-shirt, and she very much matched the description of the missing Hollis child with blonde hair and blue eyes, standing at around 5ft tall and weighing around 90lbs. Autopsy would later reveal that she had been sexually assaulted and choked to death before being cruelly discarded below a main Southern California highway over 100KM from her home on 2603 Dalemead Street, Torrance.
Dalemead Street and the surrounding areas changed after the murder. Residents kept a close eye on their children as well as the other neighborhood kids and parents encouraged the buddy system and escorted their children whenever they could, in fear that the unknown predator would strike again.
Police canvassed the local and surrounding areas and conducted over 2000 interviews in the hope of unearthing any information that could lead to the identity of Terri’s killer, but the case quickly went cold and stayed cold for almost 50 years. They believed that Terri Lynn had rode her bicycle to a nearby park where she was likely abducted.
Newspaper clippings from the time illustrate the direction police took in an effort to find the little girls killer. One article details the interviews investigators conducted with known sex offenders and how they arrested their first suspect the following month, a 29 year old man named Ronald Paul Kozack. Although Kozack did have a history of child molestation, there was no evidence to connect him to Terri Lynn’s murder and the charges were later dropped, leaving police at a loss for answers.
DNA evidence found on the victim’s body was lifted and preserved and in the early 2000’s it was entered into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, CODIS, however yielded no results. But in 2018 it was entered into a genetic genealogy database and flagged a possible relative whom police contacted for further information. Suddenly, after almost half a century, they had a name: Jake Edward Brown.
Jake Edward Brown, who also went by the alias “Thomas Tracy Burum” moved around a lot and was registered as living at several addresses over the years. 11 year old Terri Lynn Hollis was not the first to suffer a cruel ordeal at the hands of Brown- rapes, robberies and sexual assaults peppered the man’s criminal record and Terri Lynn would not be his final victim.
It’s unclear why Jake Edward Brown, at the time 36 years old, was in the area in November 1972. Investigators questioned whether he was passing through and had committed the crime opportunistically or if he was specifically on the lookout for a victim. They would never find out, as Brown died in Maricopa County, Arizona in 2003 from what was listed on his death certificate as “medical complications”. According to various reports on the case he was thought to be homeless or transient at the time of his death.
Edward Brown’s body was exhumed and a piece of bone was extracted from his remains in order to be tested against the DNA left on the victim’s body and after five decades, the case was finally solved.
At a conference this month, police displayed an enlarged mug shot of Brown along with full body photographs from both the front and side profile as they informed the local community that the cold case had finally been solved. The images, which were documented during one of Brown’s earlier arrests, show a mustached Caucasian male with dark hair who appears to be in his late twenties to early thirties, clad in a black and white ringer-T and denim jeans.
Unfortunately Terri Lynn’s parents did not live long enough to see the case solved, but her brother, Randy, who was with her on the day she went missing was present at the conference. He stated that he wished his parents were there before going on to encourage the family members of victims lost to unsolved crimes not to give up hope of resolution.
With the recent success rate of cold cases solved by entering crime scene DNA into genealogy databases the opportunity for resolution and closure for others like Randy is ever closer. Advances in forensic science and the popularity of genealogy websites has become an invaluable tool to investigators when it comes to the identification and ultimately, arrests of killers and criminals who would have otherwise went undetected and unpunished for their crimes.
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