California police have identified a suspect in a 46-year-old cold case murder of an 11-year-old girl who disappeared on a bike ride.
Jake Edward Brown was identified as the killer of the child, Terri Lynn Hollis, using genetic geneology: the same type of investigative tool that was used to capture Golden State Killer suspect Joseph James DeAngelo in 2018.
“His DNA was a 1 in 20 septillion match to the evidence collected from Terri Lynn Hollis,” Torrance Police Chief Eve Irvine said at a press conference Wednesday.
Brown, who had previous rape arrests, died in Arizona in 2003.
“We are very happy to bring a resolution to the family,” Torrance Police Department Sgt. Alexander Martinez tells PEOPLE. “They had a lot of questions about possibilities of who it could have been. They never had an answer.”
Martinez says investigators wished they could have given answers to Terri Lynn’s parents, who died not knowing what happened to their daughter.
“We wished we would have had this resolved earlier,” he says. “Unfortunately, they had passed away and didn’t get the news, but we are happy we were able to give the brother and sister a resolution.”
Terri Lynn disappeared from her home in Torrance on Thanksgiving Day in 1972.
“She was at home with her brother, and she went out for a bike ride and then never returned,” says Martinez. “We were notified, and the police department immediately started a command post utilizing all the available resources we had. We worked day and night looking for her.”
The following day, fishermen found her partially nude body by the rocks near Point Mugu near the Pacific Ocean, approximately 70 miles away.
She was strangled and sexually assaulted, Martinez says.
The case went cold quickly.
In 2004, DNA extracted from Terri Lynn’s sexual assault case was entered into the DNA databank known as CODIS in an attempt to track down the killer, but no matches were found.
“At the time, the database was just getting started, so there wasn’t that much evidence entered in to CODIS,” Martinez says. “At the time the CODIS system was fairly new.”
In 2018, with the advent of genetic geneology, the DNA evidence was uploaded to a genealogical website and researchers discovered the suspect’s potential relative.
Then, using old-fashioned investigative methods, detectives narrowed down their search to Brown, who authorities discovered died from medical complications in Arizona in 2003.
“He was potentially homeless at the time,” says Martinez.
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Police learned that Brown had been arrested in Los Angeles in April 1973 for the rape of a minor six months after the murder of Terri Lynn. He was arrested again the following year for another rape in Alameda County.
Police exhumed Brown, also known as Thomas Tracy Burum, from a Maricopa county cemetery and took pieces of bone.
The bone fragments were sent to a Florida DNA lab, which successfully extracted DNA, confirming Brown’s role in the murder.
“It’s amazing that we’ve come to this day,” Terri’s brother, Randy Hollis, said at Wednesday’s news conference, according to ABC News.
“A lot was taken from us that day and throughout my life,” Hollis said. “Thanksgiving Day I always allow for a private moment to remember Terri.”