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California Police Are Using Twitter to Solve a Decades-Old Cold Case

Linda O'Keefe, 11, disappeared and was found murdered in 1973. Now, with the help of DNA and social media, police are hoping to finally solve the case. 

By Stefan Lembo-Stolba

A California police department is trying a new tool to help solve a decades-old cold case - Twitter. 

The Newport Beach Police suspended all normal Twitter posts on Friday and Saturday, and instead posted a series of tweets in the voice of an 11-year-old girl that has been missing since 1973.

“Hi. I’m Linda O’Keefe,” the first tweet read. “Forty-five years ago today, I disappeared from Newport Beach. I was murdered and my body was found in the Back Bay. My killer was never found.”

The police department had just recently used DNA technology to create snapshots of the suspects in the case, and they wanted to spread the images in hopes of finding O’Keefe’s killers.

But Jennifer Manzella, the spokesperson for Newport Beach Police, wanted to try something new. Instead of a typical news release, she created a Twitter story that would emotionally connect the public with O’Keefe’s story.

“It’s one thing to read about an 11-year-old that passed away,” Manzella told Oxygen.com. “But by putting all of the statements in the first person, by giving Linda a voice again, we could do a little bit more than just give the case details.”

Manzella said she was inspired to tell the story over Twitter after seeing similar technique used by Canadian police, and decided to use the 45th anniversary of O’Keefe’s disappearance as the opportunity to try it.  

Over Friday and Saturday, the Newport Police Twitter page featured more than 60 tweets using O’Keefe’s voice—each of which recounted something the 11-year-old did on the day of her death.

Manzella even went one step further and matched the details of each post to what really happened on the days surrounding O’Keefe’s death.  

“We serialized the tweets so they came out at ‘real time’ with her actions and movements on the last day of her life,” Mazella said. “So, it let people start her day with her as she left for school … and then you got to feel the gap in time between when she got off school and when her parents started realizing that she should be home.”

Using the many details Newport Beach investigators uncovered, Manzella was able to narrate an in-depth story that guided Twitter readers from O’Keefe’s morning ride to school to the moment her body was found in a ditch.

Using new phenotype DNA technology, the Newport Beach Police were able to recently create new sketches of the suspects in the decades-old cold case.

Manzella hoped that by using this innovative Twitter method, they could get the new sketches in front of as many eyes as possible.

“The feedback has been incredible,” Manzella said.

Since Friday, the department’s Twitter page had received nearly 3 million impressions, and many people from the community have become engaged in sharing O’Keefe’s story, according to Manzella.

“The way that it has resonated with people has been so touching,” she told Oxygen.com. “To see that kind of connection that people have to Linda’s story is very heartening for us.”

[Photos: Newport Beach Police Department] 

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