Reno, Nevada, man's DNA linked to 1982 murder of California girl, 5, DA says

A Reno, Nevada, man was in custody Saturday after California investigators said a new look at DNA evidence implicated him in the 40-year-old murder case of a kindergartner.

Robert John Lanoue, 70, was in Nevada's Washoe County Detention Facility based on allegations he violated a condition of parole and is a wanted fugitive for the Seaside, California, murder of 5-year-old Anne Pham, according to jail records and the area district attorney.

Bond for the defendant was listed at more than $1 million.

Anne Pham was found dead two days after she went missing in 1982. (City of Seaside Police Department)
Anne Pham was found dead two days after she went missing in 1982. (City of Seaside Police Department)

On Friday the Monterey County, California, district attorney's office announced Lanoue's Nevada arrest, explaining in a statement, "A new type of DNA testing not previously available to earlier investigators identified Lanoue as the suspect in Pham’s murder."

The office said the man was 29 and lived in Seaside when Pham vanished Jan. 21, 1982, on her walk from her home to nearby Highland Elementary School.

Prosecutors charged the defendant with one count of first-degree murder and special circumstance allegations of kidnapping and committing a lewd act on a child under 14.

Details about the sexual nature of the case, as well as more information about any possible motive, were not revealed.

It's not clear whether Lanoue has retained legal representation. Public defenders in Nevada and California did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Pham's remains were found two days after she was last seen heading to school. They were on nearby U.S. government property used at the time as Fort Ord, a U.S. Army facility from 1917 to 1994.

No arrests were made in the days and weeks following the discovery, and the case went cold.

The district attorney's office Friday said progress in its investigation was boosted when a newly formed Cold Case Task Force worked with Seaside police in 2020 to reopen Pham's case.

The office also pointed to a $535,000 cold case grant from the U.S. Department of Justice as a factor. D.A.'s investigators say the money is helping to cover the cost of DNA testing at private laboratories for a number of reopened probes.

The office also thanked the FBI, a University of California, Santa Cruz biomolecular engineering professor, and two private labs for their help with the Pham case.

One of those labs, Astrea Forensics of nearby Santa Cruz, states on its website that it uses the latest technology, often off-limits to others as a result of patents, to reconstruct difficult genetic profiles that connect cases to suspects.

Those crucial profiles, which might not have materialized in the past, can even come from "highly degraded remains," the lab states.

"Our technologies are particularly adept for capturing ultrashort DNA fragments," it states. "These are fragments lost to traditional methods but are the most common DNA type in rootless hair and other degraded samples."