(NEW YORK) — The sister of a little girl who was strangled to death in 1973 didn’t expect to see a conclusion to the mysterious cold case, she told ABC News hours after a man’s arrest was announced on Wednesday.
“I never really thought that they would actually ever find the individual responsible,” Cindy Borgeson, a sister of Linda O’Keefe, told ABC News. “After all this time, finding out there is a face and a name…just brings additional closure.”
O’Keefe, 11, was abducted on July 6, 1973, as she walked home from summer school, the Newport Beach, California, Police Department said. Her strangled body was found the next day.
Their mother “carried that guilt the rest of her life,” Borgeson said.
James Neal, 72, who lived in Southern California and worked in construction in the 1970s, was arrested this week in Colorado, where he had been living, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said at a Wednesday news conference.
DNA recovered from O’Keefe shortly after her death was put into the Combined DNA Index System — the law enforcement database known as CODIS — but there was no hit, said Spitzer.
However, through the genealogical data of his family members, who voluntarily submitted their DNA to genealogy databases, investigators were able to corroborate the DNA from O’Keefe’s body and the DNA obtained from the suspect, according to Spitzer. The genealogical hit came in January, officials said.
“I had closure when they found her body,” Borgeson said about the fateful day 46 years ago. But she added that she was thankful for the “additional closure” brought to her by the investigators who never gave up, as well as the new technology, which made it possible to process the crime scene DNA.
“I’m astonished at what they were able to accomplish,” Borgeson, 64, said. “My hope is that this [case] brings hope to other families who haven’t had closure yet.”
O’Keefe, who was seven years younger than Borgeson, was “an old soul” with a “go with the flow” personality, Borgeson said.
While their parents did not live to see an arrest, Borgeson said, “I’m sure she [O’Keefe] and my parents are rejoicing.”
“I’ll get to be with them again,” she added.
As for her sister’s suspected killer, Borgeson said, “because of my profound faith, I’ve been able to forgive the individual.”
“I couldn’t carry that burden in my heart of hating an individual even though he committed this horrible crime,” she said. “I hope that he has remorse.”
Borgeson said, if she gets a chance to speak to Neal, she would “let him know that I’ve been praying for him.”
Borgeson said she also prayed for Neal’s family as his arrest was announced.
“They probably are so shocked,” she said. “I’m sure they’re going through a lot of grieving of their own.”
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