Nearly 34 years after 80-year-old Mar Vista resident Alice Lewis was found murdered inside her home, Los Angeles police say that DNA evidence has led to the arrest of the alleged killer.
Detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department Robbery-Homicide division said they arrested Dennis Vasquez, 50, at his downtown Los Angeles-area home September 8th in connection with the December 1975 rape and murder of Lewis. After Lewis was found dead at her home in the 3500 block of Meier Street, south of Palms Boulevard, investigators determined that she was murdered by suffocation and the motive appeared to be sexual in nature, police said.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has filed one count of murder against Vasquez, with special circumstances for rape and robbery, police said.
No suspects had been identified for more than three decades, but evidence collected at the scene was stored. Robbery-Homicide Cold Case Unit detectives said they arrested Vasquez after determining that a DNA sample taken during a prior arrest for a traffic violation allegedly matched evidence from the murder scene.
Police involved in the cold case highlighted the critical role of DNA evidence in leading to the arrest.
“While we don’t generally discuss the weight or value of evidence, we can say that this arrest is the direct result of the system working as designed,” LAPD Captain Kevin McClure said.
Detective Tim Marcia, a lead investigator in the cold case, said police determined in 2003 that biological evidence collected during Lewis’ autopsy could be tested for DNA, and a profile was stored in a DNA data bank. When detectives learned that the DNA sample identified Vasquez as a suspect, they felt that the news could bring some closure to the case, Marcia said.
“When you receive notification such as that there is a bit of excitement because that type of evidence collected was vital, and we felt strongly that it would link us to a suspect,” Marcia said.
While Lewis’ grandson was unable to attend a news conference announcing the arrest, he expressed gratitude to police for their dedication to the case, Marcia said.
“He was very thankful and very appreciative that no one forgot about his grandma,” the detective said.
Marcia noted that the Lewis case could become one of the oldest cold cases that his LAPD unit has solved in recent memory. His unit’s oldest known case that has led to a conviction dates to 1972.
Vasquez did not enter a plea during his arraignment in Inglewood Juvenile Court September 11th, district attorney spokeswoman Jane Robison said. He is being held in Los Angeles County Central Jail without bail.
The charge against Vasquez, who was 16 at the time of the crime, is preceded by the Welfare and Institutions Code, police said. Prosecutors have asked the juvenile judge to try Vasquez as an adult due to the “brutal nature of this case,” Robison said.
Vasquez is scheduled to return to court Monday, September 28th, when the judge will try to determine if he should be tried as an adult.
Anyone with information regarding this case or Vasquez is encouraged to contact LAPD Cold Case Homicide Unit detectives Marcia or Greg Kading at (213) 847-0970.