Montgomery Co. uses DNA technology in cold case investigation

The Montgomery County Police Department is using new technology to help solve a cold case from 1992.

Police used blood left behind during the murder to depict how the suspect may have looked. The technology is provided by Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company in Virginia that specialized in DNA phenotyping. The process predicts physical appearances and ancestry from DNA evidence.

The DNA phenotyping was used to depict the suspect of the murder of 57-year-old James Essel. On March 22, 1992, a customer stabbed and killed Essel. Essel was the owner of Sugarloaf Mountain Market, located at 23800 Old Hundred Road in Comus. He was found dead in his store with multiple stab wounds.

Police used the technology to create a composite image of the suspect at age 25, the suspect's possible age at the time of the murder, and at age 50, the suspect's current age.

According to police:

  • Detectives believe that the murder occurred between the hours of 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Sunday, March 22, 1992
  • Detectives believe that Essel was stabbed to death inside the store during an apparent robbery
  • Evidence at the store indicated that Essel struggled with the unknown male suspect during the apparent robbery
  • Blood left by the suspect supports the theory that the suspect sustained an injury during the struggle
  • A DNA profile of the suspect was obtained from the blood evidence that he left at the scene.  The DNA profile was entered into a national database in 1992 but as of yet, there has been no match
  • A witness observed a black, Pontiac Fiero in the parking lot of the store during the time frame of the murder
  • Investigators have reason to believe that the suspect was known to the area and may have been a prior customer to the store
  • Detectives also have reason to believe that the suspect possibly smoked Marlboro or Marlboro Light cigarettes

Cold case detectives held a news conference on Monday to discuss the case and the technology being used.

Crime Solvers of Montgomery County is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for any information that leads to the arrest of the suspect. Tipsters can call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

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