Arrest made in girl's 1973 Orange County murder

Posted at 12:35 PM, Feb 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-20 15:35:13-05

SANTA ANA (CNS) - A Colorado man was behind bars Wednesday on suspicion of killing an 11-year-old girl in Newport Beach in 1973, with authorities saying DNA technology helped them track down the suspect.

James Alan Neal, 72, was arrested around 6:30 a.m. Tuesday in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in connection with the death of Linda Ann O'Keefe, who lived in Corona del Mar, Newport Beach police Chief Jon Lewis said.

The girl disappeared while walking home from summer school on July 6, 1973, and her strangled body was recovered the following morning in a ditch in the Back Bay area. Police said the girl was last seen standing near a man in a blue or turquoise van.

Lewis credited ``the latest in DNA technology'' for helping crack the case that has stymied investigators for more than four decades.

``We have never forgotten Linda or the tragic events of July 1973,'' Lewis said at a news conference announcing the arrest. He said the girl's death changed the community, making parents think twice about letting their children outside alone.

Neal has been charged with murder and District Attorney Todd Spitzer said the suspect could potentially face a death sentence, although there is some question about whether capital punishment could be applied in the case given the date of the killing and the laws that were on the books at the time.

Newport Beach police last July mounted a Twitter campaign releasing information about the killing to try to spur new leads.

The tweets detailing the last hours of Linda's life included photographs from the crime scene and a newly created ``snapshot'' of the suspect that was put together by scientists at Parabon NanoLabs. The tweets concluded with a video that included interviews with the detectives who have worked on finding the girl's killer through the years.

Newport Beach police last year hired Parabon, a Virginia-based DNA technology company specializing in a process using genetic material, to build a sort of composite sketch of a suspect at 25 years old and how the killer might look today.