Kim Bryant was 16 years old when she was kidnapped, raped, and killed in January 1979. Although she was found murdered nearly a month later, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department didn’t have any idea who killed Bryant until Monday, when authorities say they cracked the cold case.
“Ten days ago we were notified that the genealogical profile built by Othram labs, based on sperm recovered from the body of Kim Bryant at autopsy, revealed that Johnny Blake Peterson was the person that kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered Kim Bryant,” LVMPD Homicide Lieutenant Ray Spencer said during a press conference.
“He was never on the radar as a suspect for this murder,” he added.
Bryant was last seen alive on Jan. 26, 1979. Her mother filed a missing persons report later that day after she failed to return home from school. Four days later, Bryant’s boyfriend contacted detectives to let them know his girlfriend had requested a ride from a Dairy Queen near the corner of Charleston Boulevard and South Buffalo Drive–just across the street from Western High School, which she attended. He arrived by around 10:45 a.m., he said, but by then she was long gone.
Classmates corroborated the boyfriend’s story and determined that Bryant’s final phone call must have come sometime before 10:00 a.m. that fateful morning. Her backpack was discovered five days after she went missing. That bag contained a purse, gym clothes and books. Despite this, Spencer said, the LVMPD was “unable to gather any leads.”
Bryant’s body was discovered by three children on Feb. 20, 1979.
“We originally recovered DNA evidence from the suspect at the time of the murder,” Spencer said during the 17-minute-long press conference. “However, we were unable to make an identification.”
After years of investigation, Spencer noted, Bryant’s death was classified a formal cold case by the LVMPD. But that recently changed.
The officer went on to praise the contributions of a philanthropist who paid for a series of additional DNA tests related to cold cases.
Justin Woo, the Sin City-based donor in question, had helped the department solve a cold case earlier this year by funding additional DNA testing in a private lab.
“We first attempted DNA on this particular case back in 2008,” LVMPD Laboratory Services Director Kimberly Murga said at the press conference. “We were not able to get a DNA profile. We again attempted DNA on different items of evidence in January of this year. We were able to obtain a foreign male DNA profile on some evidence and we put that DNA profile into CODIS — the Combined DNA Index System — and at that time we obtained no hits.”
Chalk the Bryant case up as a rare miss for CODIS–the FBI system which has been cited favorably by several different police departments over the past few years in relation to cold cases.
This time, the positive identification came by way of Woodlands, Texas-based Othram, Inc., a forensic sequencing laboratory that bills itself as “the only lab in U.S. or Canada that is built only for” accurately identifying “older or degraded” pieces of “trace events or DNA,” according to a spokesperson cited by local Fox affiliate KVVU.
“Peterson died in January 1993, but his identification as the suspect serves as a reminder to the families of murder victims that the LVMPD will not stop investigating these crimes, no matter how much time has passed,” the department said in a press release. “LVMPD Homicide Cold Case detectives are constantly reviewing cases, looking at advancements in technology, and reviewing tips in order to identify those responsible for taking another person’s life.”
Peterson was 19 at the time he kidnapped, raped, and killed Bryant–taking her away from her loved ones forever.
“Kim was a beautiful girl with a bright future, and it makes me happy that something is being done to help solve cases such as hers,” her father, Elliott Edward said in a statement read by Spencer.
The department has invited additional charity-minded individuals to help them pay for additional DNA testing in cold cases.
[image via screengrab/KLAS]
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