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Advanced DNA technology, exhumed body help authorities solve cold case of 9-year-old girl raped, murdered

Cold case solved in Marietta, Georgia.

Debbie Lynn Randall was 9-years-old when she was abducted, raped and murdered in Marietta, Georgia, in 1972. The case went unsolved for decades but advanced technology identified William Rose, who was 24 at the time and often visited family at the same apartment complex where Debbie Lynn lived, as her killer. Rose died by suicide two years after the murder. (Cobb County District Attorney’s Office)

More than five decades after a 9-year-old girl was abducted, raped, brutally murdered and dumped in a woody area in Marietta, Georgia, authorities on Monday announced they had found her killer.

Debbie Lynn Randall was walking home from a laundromat, which was a half block from her home, in Marietta when she was kidnapped on Jan. 13, 1972. Her disappearance set off a frantic search with 4,000 people out looking for her in hopes of finding her alive. Tragically, her body was found 16 days later. An autopsy determined she died by strangulation. While the case had stumped investigators for years, there was some key evidence on her body: a hair and a piece of cloth with a flowery design.

Back in 1972, investigators did not have the advantage of DNA testing. But over the years technology improved and investigators submitted several items from the crime scene. The piece of cloth was sent to a lab in 2015 which resulted in a profile of an unknown man. Further DNA testing this year pointed toward a man named William B. Rose, who was 24 at the time and often visited his family that lived in the same apartment complex that Debbie and her family did.

Rose died by suicide two years after Debbie’s murder. With the blessing of his family, Rose’s body was exhumed and the hair and piece of cloth resulted in a positive DNA match, said Cobb County District Attorney Flynn D. Broady Jr. at a press conference.

“The answer we are providing today cannot bring her back. We cannot extract justice from the perpetrator but I know he must answer to a higher power and I hope it will provide some relief and answer the question that has lingered for more than 50 years,” Broady said, adding her “young life and bright smile ended 51 years ago, gone too soon.”

Ron Alter, the head of Cobb County’s cold case unit, said he believes it was a crime of opportunity, that Rose may have been driving by and saw Debbie and abducted her. Alter said Rose was never a suspect prior to the DNA match, although Rose’s family members told Alter that Rose was scared of going to jail and he may have felt investigators were closing in on him, which could have been a reason he committed suicide.

Investigators used ancestry websites available to law enforcement and found familial matches to Rose from distant relatives and narrowed their suspect list from there, Alter said.

“Technology does not get old, it does not retire, it does not get sick. And it doesn’t quit. Technology was seeking William Rose and it found him in the grave,” Morris Nix, a retired detective with the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office who worked the case, told Atlanta NBC affiliate WXIA.

While the case was finally closed, it didn’t come in time for Debbie’s parents. Her mother died of Leukemia in 2018 while her father died last year. Her other brother, Melvin Randall, spoke briefly at Monday’s press conference.

“I would like to say that I wish my mother was here, but I know she knows in heaven now that it’s finally over and we just want to say we thank all of you for what you’ve done to make this day come to pass,” he said.

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