Hair Leads To Arrest Of Suspect Accused Of 1987 Cold Case Murder Of Elderly Florida Woman, Sheriff Says
Investigators have identified and arrested a suspect in Mississippi in connection with the death of an elderly woman nearly 36 years ago in Florida, authorities announced.
Michael Lapniewski, Jr., 55, is accused of killing 82-year-old Opal Weil, who was found dead in St. Petersburg on Feb. 9, 1987, from “obvious and visible signs of trauma,” the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said.
Weil's body was discovered by her sister-in-law, who went to check on her after she wasn’t answering the telephone.
Officials alleged Lapniewski entered Weil’s home after removing a windowpane.
Following the break-in, detectives noted Weil’s phone line was cut and forensic technicians collected evidence, including several hairs.
“Throughout the course of the investigation, a partial DNA profile was developed from the hairs located at the scene, but no matches were identified until recently,” the sheriff’s office said.
In December of 2020, cold case detectives with the sheriff’s office were assigned to the case and asked for new testing on the hairs recovered from the crime scene. Detectives also conducted additional genealogical testing through Parabon Nanolabs, and a family tree was constructed and familial relatives identified.
The search was narrowed down to three possible males in the cold case, the sheriff’s office said.
“After extensive investigation, detectives excluded two of the males, leaving Lapniewski as the primary suspect, who at that time resided a half mile from where the murder occurred,” officials said.
Detectives tracked the suspect down to his current residence in Waveland, Mississippi, and obtained a sample of his DNA.
“Detectives learned the DNA profile obtained by detectives from Lapniewski matched the profile developed from the evidence at the scene,” the sheriff’s office said.
Following the multiyear investigation, Lapniewski was arrested by Mississippi authorities and extradited to Florida, where he faces a first-degree murder charge.
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