Arrests in decades-old killings of 2 California children

This undated photo from the los angeles Police shows the 11-year-old William Tillett, who kidnapped and killed while walking home from school in Inglewood, California., on May 24, 1990. Prosecutors said Edward’donell Thomas of Pomona, California, was arrested and charged on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, with the boy’s murder. (Inglewood Police via AP)

SANTA ANA, California. – Authorities said Wednesday that they solved two decades-old cold cases from the stunned Southern California, the arrest of the suspects in the separate killings of a boy and a girl who disappeared while walking home from school.

Linda O’keefe was strangled in 1973, and William Tillett was suffocating in 1990. They were both 11.

James Neal, 72, was arrested in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and accused of murder with special circumstances of Linda’s death — a case that has already long shaken the seaside community of Newport Beach, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said.

“The detectives pursued this case,” Spitzer told reporters, said the technological advances have made it possible to close old cases. “We have all the potential in the world to solve, so that many of these cold cases that we never had the hope in the past of the problems.”

Authorities published sketches of the accused last year, based on genealogical evidence taken from a sample of DNA at the crime scene. The researchers got a hit from a genealogical database of earlier this year and got a DNA sample from Neal, who coordinated with each other, Spitzer said.

Neal was expected in court in Colorado on Wednesday. It was not immediately clear whether he had a lawyer who could speak on behalf of him. The voice mail was full on a number listed for Neal.

Linda ran to the home of the summer school in Newport Beach on July 6, 1973, when she vanished. She was last seen in conversation with a stranger in a van and never made it home, Newport Beach police Chief Jon Lewis said.

Her body was found in a ditch the next day. She was strangled, said Lewis.

Neal lived in Southern California, where Linda was killed and went to Florida soon after, where he changed his name, prosecutors said.

The authorities said that they never gave up the search for her killer, even after dozens of years passed and her parents had died. Linda of the two living sisters told about the arrest, authorities said.

In the 1990 case, a 50-year-old Edward’donell Thomas was in custody in connection with the kidnapping and murder of William Tillett outside Los Angeles. The prosecutors said they charged him with the murder on Tuesday.

The researchers do not say what linked Thomas to the killing. William disappeared while walking home from school in Inglewood on May 24, 1990. His body was found in a dark carport later in the day. The coroner determined he was suffocated.

Thomas, a resident of Pomona, was held without bail. It was not known whether he has a lawyer. Arraignment is scheduled for 4 April.


Associated Press writer Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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