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DNA has led to an arrest in the 1989 murder of an elderly woman found dead in her Texas home.
Mary Hague Kelly was found strangled to death at her Oak Cliff, Dallas, home in the winter of 1989, according to a press release by forensic genealogy corporation Othram.
Officers with the Dallas Police Department responded to the Frances Street residence when one of her relatives — concerned that Kelly might be sick or injured — used his own key to go inside and found the 78-year-old woman dead.
Kelly was found naked from the waist down and shoved underneath a bed, according to NBC Falls-Fort Worth affiliate KXAS-TV. A postmortem examination revealed she was strangled to death.
Investigators could find no sign of forced entry though items had been taken from Kelly’s home and, according to Fox Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate KDFW, her vehicle was stolen.
Investigators interviewed several persons of interest and canvassed local pawn shops for Kelly’s stolen valuables, but to no avail. The investigation stalled, even after case information was sent to the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) in hopes of finding similar cases.
In 2004, investigators revisited evidence from the crime scene, and recovered a suspect's DNA from Kelly's body, according to KXAS-TV, but testing at the time yielded no results.
In November 2021, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office enlisted the help of Othram, who used forensic-grade genome (FGG) sequencing to develop a genealogical profile of the suspect.
On June 28, genetic genealogy led to the half-brother of the man whose DNA was found on Kelly's body. He, it turned out, had lived next door to Kelly at the time of her death, according to KXAS.
Police tracked down the half-brother in question and then used a six-pack of Bud Light he discarded to match his DNA to that which was found on Kelly's body.
On Sunday, more than three decades after Kelly’s murder, the Dallas Police Department announced the July 22 arrest of 53-year-old David Rojas, who is now charged with capital murder.
Rojas was 20 years old at the time of the murder.
D’Antoni praised the work of Othram in a statement.
“In the last 33 years, countless people have put in hundreds of hours of investigative work on the Mary Kelly cold case murder,” D’Antoni stated. “But at the end of the day, it was Othram that solved this difficult case. Othram performed the necessary forensic testing and was able to put those results to work identifying our suspect. The case does not get solved without them.”
According to Othram’s press release on DNASolves — which crowdfunds for groups looking to solve cold cases around the country — they received a grant from Season of Justice to fund the science that led to Rojas’s arrest.
According to their website, Season of Justice funds law enforcement agencies and families to perform “advanced DNA solutions, such as forensic genealogy and next-generation sequencing” to financially assist in “pushing their cold cases forward.”
“My job is to aggressively pursue justice in a responsible and ethical manner. Sometimes that requires us to go outside traditional investigative methods to solve our most difficult cold cases,” said D’Antoni. “As soon as we discovered the investigative breakthrough potentials FGG offered, working with Othram and Season of Justice became a no-brainer. Their results across the country speak for themselves.”
Jail records show David Rojas is being held at the Dallas County Jail on $750,000 bond.
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