More than two decades after a woman was raped while walking down Barksdale Road, police have indicted and arrested a suspect – thanks to advanced DNA testing and genealogical databases.
Jeffrey A. King, 54, of Coatesville, Pa., was taken into custody earlier this month and is awaiting trial.
“This is a case that will now be prosecuted in the criminal justice system,” Delaware Attorney General Kathleen Jennings said. “But the work done on it to this point illustrates that the process of evaluating old criminal cases and evidence kits is showing results. It illustrates that there are police and prosecutors who are working towards justice every day, even in cases that may have seemed cold. And it tells survivors that when they come forward to report a rape or sexual assault, we will do everything we can to support them and seek justice on their behalf.”
The incident happened around 2:45 a.m. on Aug. 4, 1993, on Barksdale Road in the area of King William Street, authorities said. According to an account released by police at the time, a naked man grabbed the 22-year-old woman from behind, pulled her to a grassy area and raped her. The man then stole her clothes and other property and ran away.
The victim underwent a sexual assault examination and worked with a police sketch artist to develop a composite image of the rapist. Detectives went door-to-door disseminating the sketch. While police investigated a number of leads and showed the victim photos of several suspects, no charges were ever filed.
In 2017, 24 years after the rape, police reopened the case as part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, which provides grant funding to test old evidence using modern DNA technology.
Evidence collected from the Newark incident, which had never been tested for DNA, was sent to a private lab for testing. The lab was able to find male DNA, according to Lt. Andrew Rubin, a spokesman for the Newark Police Department.
The DNA did not match anyone in the FBI’s database, but detectives ran it through several other databases, including a public genealogy website, which police did not identify.
The use of genealogy websites to solve cold cases gained prominence last year when police in California used the technique to identify a suspect in the “Golden State Killer” serial murders. Several genealogy sites, such as 23andMe, allow customers to submit DNA samples to learn more about their heritage and family tree.
The search turned up a list of people who fit the DNA profile of the alleged assailant. One of the possible suspects was King, who in 1993 was 28 years old and had ties to Newark.
Detectives conducted surveillance on King and collected a “discarded item” containing his DNA. They tested the item, and King’s DNA was consistent with the DNA collected at the crime scene, Rubin said.
“Throughout the original investigation, Jeffrey King was never named as a possible suspect nor was a tip received about his identity,” Rubin said.
On Sept. 30, a grand jury indicted King on two counts of first-degree unlawful sexual intercourse. Today, the charge would be rape, but the crimes must be charged under the laws in effect in 1993, Rubin said.
King was arrested in Coatesville, Pa., and later turned himself in to Newark Police. He was released after posting $50,000 cash bail.
The victim has been cooperating in the investigation, Jennings said.
“She is truly a rape survivor and has gone on to live the kind of life so many of us would hope for her,” Jennings said. “She, like the Newark Police, did not ever give up and she has participated fully in the investigation.”