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New break in 20-year-old cold case provided by DNA technology

Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 11:15am

Recent advances in technology may have given New Orleans Police detectives a solid lead in two violent cold cases. Investigators said they believe one man raped two women and killed one of them.

Detectives said the first case happened in 1992. Police said the man raped and killed 20-year-old Jennifer Altemeier, a student visiting from Jacksonville, Fla. Altemeier had been left for dead just blocks away from Gallier Hall on Mardi Gras, March 2, 1992. Police said her body was found in a parking area in the 900 block Lafayette Street. The Coroner's Office determined she had been strangled.

In April of 2000, eight years following the brutal death of Altemeier, a husband and wife were walking around the French Quarter after attending a play at the Saenger Theater. They had trouble finding their car, and separated while looking for it. The wife was then approached by a young black male who claimed he worked for the Vieux Carre.

The victim explained she was looking for her car and the young male insisted on helping her. Officers said he then led the victim to a second male, between 35 and 40 years old, who was in a light blue Chevrolet Impala, and claimed to be security for the Vieux Carre.

Officials said the woman got into the car with him and within moments, the man pulled a gun on her, took her jewelry and then sexually assaulted her. After the assault, the man let the woman go, and she immediately reported the incident to police.

After interviewing that second woman, police have released a computerized sketch of what that man would look like now. Officials said a match was made between the DNA in Altemeier's case and the DNA collected in the rape case from 2000.

Those two cases were considered unrelated until 2003. That's when officers started piecing the details together.

Unfortunately their work was interrupted by the hurricanes that hit the region.

"Just prior to the storm we got the information from the Louisiana State Police Laboratory. It was placed into the file, the storm hit and the detective that placed that info in the file retired. And when we started to reevaluate the cases last summer that's when we came upon the information," Sgt. Danny McMullen said.

Serpas said it's not uncommon nationwide in cold case situations to review the file and find info that slipped through the cracks.

"I was a major in the Detective Bureau in 1992 when the body of the 20-year-old woman was discovered. I went to this disturbing scene, and I still remember it well after 20 years," said Superintendent Ronal Serpas. "We have such an advantage now in crime-fighting because technology can identify DNA evidence from crimes committed decades ago, and enables us to find perpetrators and bring them to justice. I'm incredibly proud of today's Cold Case Unit. They're doing everything they can to make sure that cases like these are not put on the shelf, and they appreciate that with today's science and the public's help, arrests are definitely possible."

The superintendent said this development is a sign of the NOPD's commitment to cracking cold cases.
Officials said two other suspects in the case were cleared because of the new DNA evidence.

Anyone with information about the cases is asked to call CrimeStopperst at (504) 822-1111.

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