Five Cold Cases Solved in 2020

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For many people, 2020 was a year that they would like to forget. But, for the families and friends of Savannah Hoskins, Christopher Dailey, James Essel, Mary London, and Wendy Jerome, 2020 was a year of answers. These five cases went unsolved for decades. Now, the truths have finally been revealed.

Savannah Hoskins- July 3, 1985

Savannah Hoskins was a 34-year-old mother of five living in Utah when she disappeared on July 3, 1985. A few weeks after her disappearance, two legs were found in the Ogden River. For decades, police suspected they belonged to Hoskins but could never prove it. Her case quickly went cold.

Finally, in 2019, police were able to positively identify the legs as Hoskins’ through DNA testing.

On March 2, 2020, Weber County Attorney Chris Allred announced that Hoskins’ husband, Joe Hoskins, was responsible for the murder. Unfortunately, Hoskins will never be charged with the murder since he is already dead.

“We are confident based on all the evidence that if Joe were alive today, we would be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Joe Hoskins murdered his wife, Savannah Hoskins,” said Allred.

The evidence that Allred is referring to includes incriminating statements made by Joe Hoskins, along with witness statements, and DNA evidence.

Joe Hoskins Jr remains skeptical.

“No, I don’t believe it,” Said Hoskins, before abruptly hanging up on reporters.

Karra Porter, the founder of the Utah Cold Case Coalition, researched Ogden police case files and found that Savannah was trying to leave Joe and move to Idaho. She also found evidence, which is backed up by one of Savannah’s son’s, Bobby Kersey Jr, that Joe was a violent man who was often physically abusive towards Savannah.

The group is still hoping to find the rest of Savannah’s remains and is offering a $3000 reward for any information that leads to them.

 

Christopher Dailey- April 26, 1995

On April 26, 1995, two hunters found the body of 26-year-old Christopher Dailey just outside Decatur, Alabama. He was dead from a gunshot wound to the head. Soon after this gruesome discovery, police found Dailey’s 1983 Toyota Tercel partially submerged in the Tennessee River with a rock tied to the accelerator.

For years, police followed leads with no success until the case eventually went cold.

That was, until Detective Sean Mukaddam of the Decatur Police Department picked up the phone on November 18, 2020. On the other end was Johnny Dwight Whited, now 53-years-old, confessing to the murder of Dailey.

At first, police were sure this call was a joke since Whited couldn’t remember the year of the murder. That skepticism quickly faded when Whited was able to give details of the crime that were never released to the public.

Whited showed investigators to the crime scene, where he re-enacted the crime.

Mukaddam declined to comment on the specifics of the confession and re-enactment but did say that Whited seemed remorseful.

“He said he was sorry multiple times. He was embarrassed about it; I can tell it had been weighing on him for a long time,” Said Mukaddam.

It was later revealed that Whited is terminally ill.

“It’s not an excuse,” said Mukaddam. “He killed somebody. He should have come forward all those years ago.”

Whited’s motive for Dailey’s murder remains unclear. The two did not know each other.

 

James Essel- March 22, 1992

On the night of March 22, 1992, 57-year-old James Essel was found stabbed to death behind the counter of his store, the Sugarloaf Mountain Market, located in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Essel was known as a friendly, hard-working father who had given up his banking career to run the small shop which, according to family members, reminded him of the serenity he’d had growing up near the ocean in Ghana. Given Essel’s positive reputation, family and friends couldn’t think of anyone who would have wanted to harm him. The case quickly went cold.

That is, until late 2018 when Montgomery investigators sent unidentified DNA from the crime scene to a DNA technology company called Parabon NanoLabs. Parabon compared the DNA sample to the profiles from people who’d submitted DNA for family history research and found the name of a potential relative of thee killer.

From there, Montgomery police officer Steve Smugeresky began building a family tree, which led him to the names of men who had lived in the area in 1992. Investigators called one of the men, who claimed to have never been to Essel’s shop. He gave officers a DNA sample, which showed that he was likely the biological brother or son of the killer. The man’s father was dead, so police looked at his only brother, Hans Huitz

In early 2020, investigators obtained a search warrant for Huitz’s DNA. The sample, which was taken from a swab on the inside of Huitz’s cheek, made a direct match to the DNA left at the 1992 crime scene.

On February 12, Montgomery detectives and a U.S Marshals Service task force attempted to arrest Huitz on charges of first-degree murder, felony murder, and robbery with a dangerous weapon. Huitz “produced a handgun,” resulting in officers firing at him. Huitz died of his injuries.

Essel’s daughter, Perpetua Edwards, said, “I wish the guy could have served time for the crime, but it’s just a relief.” Edwards continued, “I just can’t even imagine, how can someone live like that all these years, knowing what he did.”

 

Mary London- January 14, 1981

It took nearly 40 years, but in April of 2020, the murder of young Mary London was finally solved. Unfortunately, her killed will never go to prison.

Mary London, 17, was a 10th grade student at Sacramento High School when she went missing on January 14, 1981. London was developmentally disabled. 

The following day, London’s body was found on a rural stretch of San Juan Road. She died from multiple stab wounds.

Despite the police’s best efforts, the case went cold.

“They really did work very hard to find out who did it,” said Mary’s half-sister, Esther Schneider.

In 2016, the case was reopened. Four years later, the case was solved thanks to advances in DNA technology. Like the case of James Essel, police were able to use genetic genealogy to crack the case.

Genetic testing linked a man named Vernon Parker to the crime. Parker was murdered in 1982, the year after he allegedly killed London.

Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn said, “The person that we’ve concluded was responsible for this was another young man around her, Mary’s, age that was murdered downtown in Sacramento a little over a year after he murdered Mary.”

Parker was never looked into as a suspect prior to the DNA results. Whether Parker and London knew each other or not remains a mystery.

Although Parker will never face prison, for London’s family, finally having answers is enough.

“I told Mary, ‘Now, you can rest,’” said Schneider.

 

Wendy Jerome, November 22, 1984

14-year-old Wendy Jerome was last seen alive on Thanksgiving, 1984 when she left her Rochester, New York home to deliver a birthday card to a friend. When she didn’t arrive home by curfew, her family grew worried.

Three hours later, Jerome’s body was found just a quarter mile from her house. She had been raped and beaten to death.

“Wendy did put up a fight,” Said Captain Frank Umbrino of the Rochester Police Department.

36 years later, in September of 2020, Jerome’s killer was finally caught and arrested. 56-year-old Timothy Williams was charged with Wendy’s murder thanks to evidence from familial DNA that linked him to the crime.

This comes after two unsuccessful attempts by police to use DNA to identify a potential suspect, one in 2000 and again in 2016.

Williams is a Rochester-native who was 20 years old when the crime took place. He did not know Jerome.

Unfortunately, he will not face rape charges as the statute of limitations has expired.

“I never thought I would see this day, and now it’s here,” Wendy’s mom, Marlene Jerome, said.

Captain Umbrino addressed Wendy’s mother, saying, “Marlene, I’m sorry it took so long, but we finally did it.”

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