Detectives worked diligently to solve the senseless slaying of a devout Christian grandmother who had outlived her husband and children, spending her days reading and living in solitude on a quiet street. But 20th-century forensics were no match for the killer, and the case went cold for 33 years.
Nor did earlier detectives have a database for DNA samples. Now police have one, and it is routinely updated with new samples from jailed California inmates. Marcia picked up the Lewis case in 2003, thinking he may find in the database a match to semen from the rape.
Now, 35 years after the slaying, two men who were teenagers back in 1975 have been charged with committing the rape and murder during the course of a burglary. One defendant, Kevin Michael Shanahan, is jailed in Minnesota. He appeared in court today and waived an extradition proceeding, so he will arrive in California next week.
"It's sad, a travesty to see an elderly person brutalized," Marcia said. "They broke into the residence with the sole purpose of stealing objects and sexually assaulted and killed her."
Solving the case took some pretty innovative detective work.
When he started looking at the case, Marcia was dismayed to learn that the physical evidence kept in the police locker had been destroyed. On a hunch, he went to the coroner's office to see if it had any forensic records.
He was lucky -– a vaginal swab existed and it was tested for DNA. The results were entered into a database but had no hits.
Six years later, in 2009, Dennis Vasquez, 52, was arrested on suspicion of receiving stolen property. While he was in jail, his mouth was swabbed for a DNA sample that was placed in the database. Marcia then got a phone call –- he was told he had a match to Lewis' killing.
Vasquez's fingerprints were checked against those found at the crime scene and matched as well, Marcia said.
By the time all of this was processed, Vasquez had served time in jail and was back at home in Los Angeles when Marcia knocked on his door with an arrest warrant.
"He acted surprised, but he was extremely nervous," Marcia said. "During the interview with him, he asked if he was the only person going to jail on this case, and that gave us a clue that more than one individual partook in the crime."
Vasquez didn't confess and asked for a lawyer.
Marcia went back to the file and found a set of fingerprints from the crime scene that had no match. So he pored through high school records and identified friends Vasquez hung out with back when he was 17.
At the time of Lewis' slaying, Shanahan was 15 years old and lived near Vasquez -- and not far from the victim. The extra set of fingerprints was entered into a law enforcement database and matched Shanahan, who had been arrested for a Colorado bank robbery in 1988, Marcia said.
Shanahan was charged with murder on Dec. 12. Vasquez is awaiting trial.
"It's very satisfying to solve a case that once was thought to be unsolvable," Marcia said. "Technology has played a major role in today's crime fighting, and this case proves it is working well."
Anyone with information on this case is urged to call Marcia at 213-486-6810.