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DNA testing could yield suspect in Starkville cold case

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Updated: 5/31/2013 10:59 pm
STARKVILLE, Miss. (WTVA) -- Starkville Police Chief David Lindley says he can still remember the days following a double homicide on Sept. 3, 1990, referred to by residents as "The Labor Day Murders."

"It is probably the most notorious homicide the city of Starkville has ever had that remains open and unsolved," Lindley said.

He had been on the force 15 years and, as a captain, worked the case with other investigators.

But with little evidence left behind at the time, authorities had great difficulty determining who was responsible.

"We have put many, many thousands of man-hours' time, effort, resources into investigating this case and will continue to until it is solved," Lindley said.

The suspect left little clues behind, with Lindley noting there were no signs of forced entry to the home where the attacks took place.

That day, however, someone entered the residence on Highway 182, raping and murdering Betty Jones, 65, and the woman she was taking care of, 81-year-old Katherine Crigler.

Crigler later died from her injuries at a local hospital.

Now, new technology is helping detectives gain an edge in this cold case.

"About five years ago, we resubmitted most of the original evidence and we were able to determine through an update in DNA technology a semen-based profile of the attacker," Lindley said.

That means they can now identify the person responsible for that September 1990 murder through DNA testing.

That's where Felix Vail comes in. The 73-year-old was arrested by Louisiana authorities earlier this month for the murder of his first wife in 1962.

That cold case, ironically, led Starkville authorities to Vail in the first place.

"He was somebody that was completely off the radar, had never been identified as a possible suspect, and he came to light based on a cold case investigation that Louisiana started," Lindley said.

Starkville detectives then worked with Lousiana authorities to establish a timeline for Vail's whereabouts, which revealed Vail was in Starkville during the Labor Day Murders.

Lindley says detectives obtained a DNA sample from Vail to test against the profile from the Starkville victims and those results are expected soon.

"Because he's what some refer to as a serial murderer and he lived here in Starkville, obviously this is a rare opportunity to generate interest in the original case," Lindley said.

Even if Vail is cleared in the Starkville case, Lindley hopes this renewed interest could lead to an arrest and closure.

The original suspects in the double homicide case have been ruled out because they didn't match the DNA profile from the victims, Lindley added.

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