Investigators on Feb. 25 announced a suspect was arrested in connection with the 1981 rape and murder of Sylvia Quayle. The case remained cold for 40 years until a coordinated effort between the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Metro Crime Stoppers and United Data Connect led to the arrest of suspect David Anderson last month, according to February coverage by the Denver Post.
Quayle was found by her father on Aug. 4, 1981, in her Cherry Hills Village home strangled, stabbed, raped and shot with a .22-caliber gun. An autopsy revealed she died from blood loss caused by stab wounds and the gunshot wound was listed as a secondary cause of death. According to the Denver Post article, telephone lines to Quayle’s home had been disabled and a window screen had been removed and was found discarded some distance away.
Ottis Toole confessed in 1983 to the murder, according to February 9News coverage, but Arapahoe County prosecutors dropped the charges after testing genetic material found at the scene that ruled him out. Toole was eventually cleared of several other crimes he also confessed to according to 9News.
Investigators sorted through more than 140 pieces of evidence, first testing the area rug on which Quayle’s body was found in the early 1990s then following up with associated DNA profiling in 2000. The DNA profile, which was determined to be an “unidentified male,” was submitted to the federal Combined DNA Index System or CODIS but a hit didn’t come back on the sample until late January.
Anderson, who was arrested multiple times in the 1970s and ’80s primarily on burglary and trespassing charges, was identified by genetic genealogy tracing. Investigators tracked him down in Cozad, Nebraska, where they collected two bags of his trash and tested DNA left on a can of Vanilla Coke. He was arrested with help from the Cozad Police Department and the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office on Feb. 10 in Nebraska where he remains in custody.
He will be extradited to Arapahoe County, where he will be booked on charges of two counts of first-degree murder. According to a February article from People, one of the charges accounts for murder with deliberation and “the other alleges she was killed in the commission of another felony: the sexual assault.” Arapahoe County District Attorney John Kellner said in a Feb. 25 press conference that Anderson will be charged with first-degree murder as it existed in 1981, which carried a possible sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years and differs from current murder sentencing guidelines of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Scientific breakthroughs in DNA profiling and multiple databases of samples has led to the recent arrests of other notorious criminals like the Golden State Killer in April 2018. Broader trends imply more cases could be closed as genetic genealogy tracing becomes more widely used in cold case investigations. Last month, Westword reported on the closure rate of the Denver Police Department for cold cases dating back to the 1970s. Westword found the department had closed 19 of 748 that remain open and unsolved.
This article appeared in the March 8 issue of Law Week Colorado. To read other articles from that issue, order a copy online. Subscribers can request a digital PDF of the issue.