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How DNA helped police solve a 1980 cold-case murder: 'We now have some closure'

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Source: Newport Beach police; MEGA

Aug. 10 2021, Published 11:26 a.m. ET

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Thanks to DNA, police in California say they have solved the cold-case murder of a mom in 1980. Though, they admit they won't be able to arrest her killer.

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Kenneth Elwin Marks was identified as the person responsible for the murder of Judith “Judy” Nesbitt, who was killed on Nov. 26, 1980, while showing her family’s boat in Newport Beach, California, according to Newport Beach police.

Around 1 p.m., police say, Marks followed Judy into the sleeping quarters of the boat and assaulted her.

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After a violent struggle, Marks shot Judy and stole her credit cards, checkbook and cash from her purse before fleeing the scene, police say.

Hairs from the unknown suspect had been kept as evidence since the crime occurred, according to Newport Beach police.

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In 2002, a limited DNA profile was extracted from the roots of these hairs and entered into the FBI’s CODIS database, but it never matched any other profiles.

In 2018, a more expanded DNA profile was able to be extracted from the remaining hair shafts. It was the first DNA extraction of its kind to identify a murderer in a criminal investigation in the United States, Newport Beach police say.

Investigators then used genetic genealogy techniques to identify Marks as the killer in the cold case.

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Marks died in 1999 without ever being identified as a suspect in Nesbitt’s murder.

“This is a case that has hung heavy in the hearts of our community, our department, and the Nesbitt family,” said Newport Beach Police Chief Jon T. Lewis. “Kenneth Marks has passed away, but he no longer gets to hold the secret of his deeds. Through incredible advances in technology, and the tireless dedication of these investigators, we now have some closure for all who knew and loved Judy Nesbitt.”


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