(NEW YORK) — Police in Virginia announced the arrest of a man for the 1994 cold case murder of a 37-year-old woman.
The Fairfax County Police Department said Stephan Smerk, 51, is the suspect in the murder of Robin Lawrence, who was found stabbed to death inside her home in Springfield, Virginia, on Nov. 20, 1994. Lawrence’s daughter, only 2 years old at the time of the murder, was found alone in another room of the house unharmed.
The nearly 30-year-old case was solved, police said, after a genetic genealogy analysis.
Investigators were then able to obtain a consensual DNA sample from Smerk at his home in New York and later a “full confession” to the crime, police said. Smerk, who was on active duty in the Army at the time of the murder, had been living at the Fort Myer base in Northern Virginia when the killing occurred, police said.
“He chose her seemingly randomly, and it was a heinous, heinous scene. And I’ve seen a lot of crime scenes in person and photographs of one, and this one was particularly gruesome,” Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said at a press conference.
Smerk had no prior arrest record before being taken into custody this month, and police said they don’t believe he was suspected of any similar crimes. Smerk had no apparent connection to the victim, police said. He’s currently in custody in New York and is awaiting extradition to Virginia.
ABC News was not immediately able to locate a legal representative for Smerk.
“We as the family who’s sitting here to my left would like to thank the Fairfax and Niskayuna police departments for their work on this case. We look forward to learning more about the process and next steps,” Lauren Ovans, a cousin of the victim, told reporters Monday.
Police collected DNA from the 1994 crime scene, but had no matches to the genetic profile, which was uploaded to the national database for DNA. The use of the genetic genealogy analysis helped break the case after cold case detectives submitted that DNA to Parabon NanoLabs, a Virginia DNA technology-based company, police said.
The police force was able to develop “a profile using that DNA and began searching genealogical databases. They use that information to develop a family tree which they provided to our detectives and a volunteer who worked with our cold case detectives,” said Fairfax Police Deputy Chief of Investigations Eli Cory.
Before traveling to New York, Fairfax County cold case detectives say they compared a composite sketch of the suspect to Smerk’s high school yearbook picture and a DMV picture of him in the 1990s.
Smerk’s willingness to cooperate was “highly unusual, so that was a clue to our detectives that something may be afoot,” Chief Davis said.
The Fairfax County cold case detectives left after meeting with Smerk and were preparing to return to Virginia when they say Smerk called and told them, “I want to talk and I want to talk right now,” police said. Detectives advised him to call 911 and go to the local police station, according to police.
Smerk, who was working as a software engineer, “fully described his involvement. It is beyond involvement, he talked about killing Robin. And he talked a little bit about some more details that I won’t go into, but it was a full confession. And it was a confession with more than enough details. Coupled with the genetic genealogy research,” Davis said.
He added, “The evidence that we have the strength of this case is overwhelming. And we feel fully comfortable that he’s going to be successfully prosecuted right here in Fairfax County.”
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