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Crime News Cold Cases

Former Navy Sailor Found Guilty For 1969 Murder Of California Dancer

John Sipos, 76, was arrested in Pennsylvania for the brutal rape and murder of a Mary Scott in San Diego, where he'd been stationed in the military. 

By Jax Miller
Gavel Weights G

An elderly man has been found guilty of murdering a dancer in San Diego, California more than 50 years ago.

John Sipos, 76, was found guilty of first-degree murder on Thursday, five decades after authorities said he murdered Mary Scott, 23, in her City Heights apartment, according to Fox 5 San Diego. Sipos, a former Navy sailor who lived in the San Diego area, stood accused of raping and strangling Scott on Nov. 20, 1969, after genetic genealogy tied him to the scene.

Sipos could not officially be charged with the rape because the statute of limitations ran out decades ago on that particular crime.

In a statement from the San Diego District Attorney's Office emailed to Oxygen.com, authorities said original witnesses from 52 years ago took the stand at the murder trial, which started less than two weeks ago.

"The trial was one and a half weeks long, during which the original officers and a detective that investigated the murder testified, as well as several civilian witnesses who saw the victim before she was killed," said the public affairs officer Tanya Sierra. "Including her friend, who found her battered and broken body in her apartment."

The district attorney's office said it took the jury less than a day to find Sipos guilty. 

Sipos was arrested on Oct. 24, 2020, at his Schnecksville, Pennsylvania home, according to NBC San Diego. He waived extradition from Lehigh County back to California but claimed he had no memory of the woman’s murder, his Pennsylvania attorney said.

“He has no memory of him committing a homicide,” said John F. Waldron, whose high-profile clientele included Robert Durst. “He really doesn’t recall much about that time, but a crime like that is something he would have remembered.”

Waldron said his client was honorably discharged from the Navy after being stationed in California from 1963 to 1969.

“I was speechless. I just couldn't believe it was real,” Scott’s daughter, Donna Wyble, told KUSI News following the arrest. “Technology has come so far with DNA genealogy, I mean, that’s how they’re finding criminals now.”

Wyble said it was important that Sipos have his day in court because her sister – who died in 1989 in an automobile accident – wanted to see their mother’s killer brought to justice.

Rosalie Sanz, the victim’s sister, told the New York Times in 2020 that Mary Scott had two daughters who were raised by their father – a U.S. Navy man – in Louisiana. Rosalie, who was 16 when detectives delivered the tragic news to their mother, said Scott remained in California, where she became a cocktail waitress and then a dancer who called herself “Lucky.”

“It is nice to be able to speak for her after all this time,” said Sanz. “The big headline was ‘Go-Go Girl Found Dead.’ There was a little more to her than a ‘go-go girl.’”

Prosecutors said Sipos, who would have been in his early 20s, kicked down the door to Scott’s 39th Street apartment, broke her jaw and raped her before strangling her to death, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. On Nov. 20. 1969, one of Scott’s co-workers went to check on Scott at her first-floor residence when she hadn’t arrived for her shift at the Star & Garter Club just a few blocks away. When the co-worker arrived, she found Scott’s furniture in disarray, the chain locks broken from the door, per the Times.

In 2019, Rosalie Sanz reached out to a friend and retired police officer about the use of genetic genealogy after reading about the now-common practice used to identify individuals through mapping familial DNA.

She hoped the same science could be applied to her sister’s cold case.

In 2020, the San Diego Police Cold Case Unit and the San Diego District Attorney’s Office announced they identified Sipos as the murder suspect.

Sipos pleaded not guilty, according to the Union-Tribune. His west coast attorney, Brooke LaFrance, noted her client’s career in hospital administration and security. Prior to his arrest, he’d spent 20 years living off his retirement with his wife in Pennsylvania.

Mary Scott’s sister told the New York Times that Sipos “went on to live” his life.

“And that is the thing that makes me the most upset,” she continued. “When I learned that he is just living free and happy, it is upsetting to me that he had that normal life all these years. She had so much life ahead of her that just got stolen.”

“A lot of things would have been different if she would have lived,” continued Scott’s daughter, Donna Wyble. “For someone to murder someone so young, it’s just time for justice. She was just 23 years old.”

Sipos is scheduled to be sentenced on April 22, according to the Union-Tribune. 

The district attorney's office told Oxygen.com that Sipos would be sentenced under the law as it was in 1969 when the punishment for the offense was seven years to life in prison. 

LaFrance told Oxygen.com Sipos "maintains his innocence and an appeal will be filed."

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