But this week, investigators announced that genetic pedigree helped them crack the case, revealing a strange twist to the 40-year-old story.
Authorities of the Council of Bluffs say they have concluded that Thomas O. Freeman, a truck driver from West Frankfort, Illinois, murdered Lee Rotatori at a hotel located along two interstates. Freeman, who they believe committed the murder while working as a truck driver, was supposed to be 32 years old when she stabbed a hospital worker to death in her hotel room in June 1982.
But in a bizarre turn of events, Freeman was murdered a few months later and his body was dumped in a dense forest in rural Illinois, not far from where he lived. Police have yet to identify his killer, but now believe it may be related to Rotatori’s murder.
Before being killed, Rotatori was staying at the Best Western Frontier Hotel after moving to the area and starting a job as a hospital dietitian. She had planned to live in the hotel until her husband could drive to her in their mobile home, according to a report at the time from Omaha World-Herald.
After she failed to show up for work on June 25, 1982, just days after her orientation began, a hotel employee discovered her body covered in blood from a stab wound in her hotel room. her ground floor, according to Daily Nonpareil a local newspaper in southwestern Iowa. The Pattawattamie County medical examiner said she may have been dead for 12 hours and that she was sexually assaulted.
Police said there were no signs of forced entry.
Eldon Jones, the police captain at the time, called Rotatori’s murder “the most troubling case I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in”. according to Word Herald. He said that six detectives were investigating the murder.
Local authorities worked with the Michigan State Police and coordinated to track down the ringleaders and interview witnesses. Rotatori’s husband, Jerry Nemke, was dropped as a suspect when he presented convincing alibi even though he had been arrested years earlier in Chicago as a teenager and subsequently convicted. charged with beating a waitress to death in 1960. He was released in 1978 and married Rotatori that year. The couple divorced and remarried in 1981, according to Unparalleled.
After leading to fatigue, the case cooled down until 2001 when evidence was submitted to the state crime lab, which developed the men’s DNA profile. The profile development is promising, but does not appear to match any DNA profiles in state and federal DNA databases.
For years, the database has been scanning the matches with no luck. Investigators were stumped until further advances in DNA technology could crack the case.
In 2018, investigators looked at whether genetic pedigree might be an option. Police Captain Todd Weddum told Unparalleled That strategy came to him after watching a show about how it was used to solve the Golden State Killer case. “There is nothing else we can do in this case,” he said.
Months later, Council Bluffs investigators submitted the suspect’s DNA profile to Parabon Nanolabs, opening a genetic genealogy case. After the Virginia-based company returned the suspect’s DNA profile, it began comparing it with DNA submitted to genealogy websites.
Investigators contacted the family, but the initial result was a distant relative of the suspect – again putting the Rotatori killer out of reach – until Eric Schubert, a college student with a knack for science Genealogical research offers to help find suspects. in March 2020.
“He was very quickly able to reach the great-grandparents of our subject,” Bluffs Council Police Chief Steve Andrews, who has worked on the case since 2011, told AFP. Unmatched. Once a relative is identified, investigators will ask them to submit a kit in the hope of finding a match.
The suspect was eventually narrowed down to two brothers. Based on their ages at the time of the crime, police pointed to elderly Freeman as their suspect.
“It took this new technology to solve this case,” Weddum told Unparalleled.
To confirm their theory, investigators tracked down Freeman’s daughter for a DNA sample and sent it to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation’s lab. They say her DNA shows a parent-child relationship that matches the DNA found in Rotatori’s case.
The discovery of the Rotatori killer nearly 40 years later was a major breakthrough in the case, although further investigation revealed that Freeman was killed shortly after he allegedly murdered Rotatori.
On October 30, 1982, his body was found in a shallow grave near Cobden, Illinois, with multiple gunshot wounds. Police said the decomposition showed he had been dead about three months before his body was found. His case remains unsolved, but Council Bluffs police said they are assisting Illinois State Police looking into whether Freeman’s murder is related to his role in Rotatori’s death. .
Weddum said to Unparalleled, explains that Rotatori’s husband, Nemke, who died in 2019, is considered an interest in Freeman’s murder.
“Given his known history in the area where our suspect lived and where our suspect died, that raises suspicions about his involvement. That he could have been involved,” Weddum said.