Colorado police have solved a nearly five-decade-old cold-case murder of a 20-year-old woman.
Westminster Police identified Thomas Elliott as the murderer of 20-year-old Teree Becker, who was last seen on 4 December 1975, as she hitchhiked to visit her boyfriend at the Adams County Jail in Brighton, Colorado.
Her body was found by a couple in a field near 100th Avenue two days later, police said. The 20-year-old’s autopsy revealed that she had been raped and had died of asphyxiation.
The identification comes 48 years after Becker’s murder and decades of investigation from multiple police departments.
The cold case has been reviewed multiple times over the decades, police said, including in 2003, when the Colorado Bureau of Investigation extracted a piece of male DNA from evidence related to the rape.
However, investigators were unable to find a match for the DNA profile until 2013 when a sample submitted by the Las Vegas Metro Police Department for the rape and murder of a woman in her apartment provided a genetic match and police were able to determine that the same suspect was involved in both cases.
But despite the breakthrough, Las Vegas police were also not able to identify the suspect in their case.
In 2018, the DNA profile created in Colorado was “determined to be a good candidate for genetic genealogy” and was submitted for testing again, Westminster Police Department said.
Genetic genealogy compares DNA samples to each other to find people who may be related to each other.
It would then take five years of testing for police to identify Thomas Elliott as the suspect.
Elliott was already deceased, but in October, the Las Vegas Metro Police Department obtained consent to exhume his body in relation to the two homicides.
His bones were collected and analysed, and he was then identified as a match to the unknown DNA profile in the murder of Teree Becker.
Detectives later found that Elliott had spent time in prison for various crimes, including a burglary committed shortly before Becker’s murder.
He was sentenced to six years in prison for the burglary before being released from prison in Las Vegas in 1981.
He then received another 10-year sentence for a crime against a child and was released in 1991 before committing the murder that led to the Las Vegas DNA profile, according to the Westminster Police Department.
Elliott took his own life in October 1991, police said, and was buried in Nevada.
“We are thrilled we were able to solve this cold case and hopefully bring closure to the friends and family of Teree Becker,” Westminster Police Department said.