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Vallejo cold case solved using genealogy records

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VALLEJO — Detectives in Northern California say they have solved a decades-old killing after using the same genealogy tool credited with the arrest of the alleged Golden State killer.

Vallejo police said Thursday they identified the suspect accused of raping and strangling Naomi Sanders inside her apartment in February 1973. The 57-year-old woman lived alone and was the apartment building’s manager when she was attacked, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The suspect, identified as Robert Dale Edwards, died in 1993 from a drug overdose. Edwards had a lengthy criminal history, including convictions for assault, theft, DUI, domestic violence, assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder, police said.

Police at the time of the killings said robbery did not appear to be a motive. An autopsy determined she was strangled and was a victim of sexual assault, according to the Vallejo Police Department.

A DNA profile was developed in 2014 from semen found in Sanders’ clothes but there were no matches in the FBI’s national database and various state-run data banks.

In 2018, detectives started researching an emerging investigative tool known as genetic genealogy. The practice came to prominence in April of that year, when detectives announced they had made an arrest in the decades-old Golden State killer case by tracing DNA left at crime scenes back to a suspect through his relatives.

By April 2019, they had narrowed the list of suspects in the Sanders killing to two. Investigators ruled out a man living in Louisiana by testing his discarded DNA.

Edwards’ remains had been cremated, but detectives were able to make contact with his son and collect his DNA.

Sanders may have known Edwards, who was 22 at the time of her killing. His father was Sanders’ former coworker.

The woman’s nieces said in a statement the family was grateful to everyone who worked to solve the cold case. They said most of those who knew Sanders have died “and unfortunately they cannot be afforded the truth” about what happened.

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