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‘This was a huge deal:’ Genealogical database, DNA lead to arrest in murder of 11-year-old 45+ years later

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- An arrest has been made in the cold case murder of 11-year-old Linda O'Keefe -- a crime that haunted a California community for more than 45 years. A genealogical database helped police nab their man.

"This was a day that made parents in our community think twice before they let their children walk to school, walk out the front door, bike down the street or play with their friends," said Jon Lewis, Newport Beach police chief.

It was July of 1973. O'Keefe was found strangled to death, her body dumped in a ditch after authorities said she was kidnapped while walking home from school.

"This murder rocked the city of Newport Beach in a very, very serious way for over four decades," said Todd Spitzer, Orange County district attorney.

"It took place so long ago, in a time that was simpler. Back in 1973, this was a huge deal," said Brad Avery, Newport Beach councilman.

More than 45 years later, police believe they got their guy. James Neal, 72, was arrested in Colorado on multiple charges, including murder, kidnapping and committing lewd and lascivious acts.

A genealogical site, FamilyDNATree.com that led to his arrest. Police then collected DNA from Neal.

"The DNA that they then sub-sequentially collected through surveillance was then compared to the DNA from the victim and there was a match," said Spitzer.

Police said O'Keefe's parents died before they got closure -- but she's survived by two sisters.

"We were grateful that we could have that and provide them with some closure," said Lewis.

Investigators were working to extradite Neal from Colorado to California, and the district attorney said he's looking into the possibility of pursuing the death penalty.

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