In what may be the first Colorado cold-case murder solved through genealogical DNA, a man who died seven years ago has been identified as a suspect who picked up an 18-year-old hitchhiker and bludgeoned her to death in August 1981.
Donald Steven Perea, who died in 2012, killed Jeannie Moore, 18, and dumped her body in 1981 in Genesee Park in Jefferson County, Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Shrader said at a news conference Tuesday in Golden.
“While we would have preferred to place handcuffs on the suspect, we hope knowing who and where he is brings the family some degree of closure,” Shrader said.
Moore’s surviving family members described their sister and aunt as “loving and kind in all her ways. She was sincere and true in her heart and mind, and has left behind beautiful memories,” Schrader said. Moore’s mother has died.
It was cooperation from one of Perea’s own family members that ultimately helped solve the case.
Investigators used a DNA sample provided by Perea’s daughter to confirm that her father was the suspect who killed and sexually assaulted Moore, said Elias Alberti, the sheriff’s office cold case investigator.
“Further investigation led investigators to identify Perea as being 3.3 trillion times more likely than anyone else to have committed the murder,” Shrader said. It is likely the first case in Colorado solved with genealogical DNA evidence, he said.
Denver Metro Crime Stoppers contributed thousands of dollars in support of the genealogical research, DMCS president Mike Mills said. The sheriff’s office hired Denver-based United Data Connect, which performs genetic genealogy analysis, to do research that led directly to Perea’s identification as a suspect, Alberti said.
Former Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, United Data’s founder and chief of operations, said his company’s role in solving the case led him to a certain conclusion about Perea.
“This is the man who killed this victim nearly 40 years ago,” Morrissey said at the news conference.
At the time of Moore’s disappearance on Aug. 25, 1981, Perea was out of jail on bond and awaiting trial on a rape charge, Morrissey said. Perea later was convicted of rape, he said. Perea served a Colorado prison term between 1982 and 1985, Alberti said.
Sheriff’s investigators had entered DNA from the suspect in Moore’s murder in state and national databases in 2011, Alberti said. But there were no hits because Perea had been released from prison before DNA was routinely collected from prisoners and entered into law enforcement DNA databases for possible matches, he said.
The sheriff’s office reopened the cold case investigation in May, Alberti said.
The information that led to Perea’s identification as Moore’s killer was the same type used to solve the Golden State Killer case last year in which Joseph DeAngelo, 72, was arrested and charged with eight counts of murder in California, Morrissey said. Authorities suspect that DeAngelo killed at least four more people and committed 50 rapes in 10 counties from Northern to Southern California in the 1970s and 1980s, according to media reports.
Investigators in the Moore and Golden State Killer cold cases had submitted suspect DNA with private genealogical databases. The companies identified numerous people who were either a close relative of the suspect or the suspect himself, Morrissey said. Investigators then did back-ground checks on everyone on the lists, he said.
Perea’s rape conviction stood out, Morrissey said. Investigators asked his daughter to submit her DNA to help solve the case, Alberti said. She cooperated and, in doing so, helped bring Moore’s case to a closure 38 years after the teen vanished, he said.
Moore left her home about 7:10 a.m. on Aug. 25, 1981, and began hitchhiking at the Harlan Street on-ramp for westbound Interstate 70, according to the Jefferson County sheriff’s cold-case website. She was headed to work at a Tenneco gas station at 13th Avenue and Wadsworth Boulevard in Lakewood.
An employee and a customer at a gas station near the interstate on-ramp saw a red car pull over to pick her up. Moore tried the passenger door of the vehicle, but she appeared to have problems with it. The driver leaned over and opened the door from within, the website said. The car was described as a 1969 or 1970 Ford LTD or Galaxy, possibly with a black vinyl top, the website said.
Five days after Moore disappeared, picnickers found Moore’s body in Genesee Park south of I-70, the website said. An autopsy showed death was caused by blows to the head, it said.