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DNA Connects 1970 Cold Case Murder Of Nearly-Decapitated Court Reporter To Her Then-Neighbor

Using DNA from a blood trail left by the killer at the scene, investigators say that Nancy Bennallack was likely murdered by her neighbor, Richard John Davis, more than 50 years ago.

By Gina Tron
A police handout of cold case victim Nancy Bellenallack

A horrific, decades-old California murder — the oldest cold case in Sacramento County — has now been solved.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office announced in a press release on Wednesday that, utilizing genetic genealogy, they had identified Richard John Davis as the man who killed Nancy Bennallack in 1970. Davis was Bennallack’s neighbor at the time of her murder. 

Bennallack, a 28-year-old Sacramento court reporter, was found stabbed to death inside her apartment on the morning of Oct. 26, 1970.

She had been engaged to Chief Public Defender Farris Salamy at the time of her death and the two had spent time together the previous evening. Salamy left her home around 11:30 p.m., Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said at a Wednesday press conference, and had told investigators that it was Nancy's habit to leave the sliding glass door to her second floor balcony slightly ajar so that her cat could go outside.

“Sometime between 11:30 p.m. on October 25th and the early morning hours of October 26th, the suspect made entry into the victim’s apartment by climbing up the second story balcony and through the open slider,” the press release states. “The suspect stabbed the victim over 30 times and nearly decapitated her.”

Police said at the press conference that the murderer, now believed to be Davis, had put tape on his fingers to avoid leaving prints.

When Nancy failed to come to work the following morning, a friend of hers from work asked her son to check on her, and he convinced the apartment manager to open Nancy's door, discovering her body.

Investigators summoned to the scene noticed a “blood trail” at the scene — apparently from the murderer cutting himself during the assault — “which began on the balcony, continued to the sidewalk below, around the apartment complex buildings, ending at the parking lot.” They speculated he'd left the scene in his vehicle.

During the press conference this week, law enforcement said that about 500 people were interviewed within a month of the murder, but to no avail.

Davis — who was 27 in 1970 — died in 1997, possibly related to alcoholism, KCRA reports. Police said they believe he could, from his apartment, see across the complex's pool into her apartment. 

A forensic DNA profile was developed from the blood drops in 2004, and the then-unknown male profile was uploaded to the state and national CODIS data base. However, investigators were unable to find a match at that time.

Salamy died in 2014, “no doubt always wondering who was the man who took his fiancée," Schubert said.

In 2019, the Sacramento County cold case team started using genetic genealogy to track down the source of the DNA from the blood trail, eventually identifying an unnamed relative of Davis'. A confirmatory blood sample from that relative allowed them to determine that Davis had been the source of the blood trail leading from Nancy's apartment back in 1970.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office read a letter from Linda Cox, the sister of the victim.

“How many times my husband, Tom and myself have said Nancy would love our ranch, all our animals and land with wide open spaces,” she said. “We have missed sharing our children and grandchildren and so much more.”

Talking directly to Bennallack’s family, retired homicide detective Micki Links — who started working on the case in 2005 — said that “due to the fact that Richard Davis is deceased, sadly, there won’t be any form of legal justice, but Linda and Tom, I hope this brings you, Nancy and your family some peace.”

Schubert told reporters on Wednesday that “Nancy was never forgotten.”

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