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Sheriff: Suspect identified in 1985 Danville cold-case murder

Cutting-edge DNA technique used to ID man in rape/murder, but he died 21 years ago

Contra Costa County sheriff's detectives appear to have identified a suspect in the previously unsolved 1985 rape and murder of Danville resident Virginia Vincent.

Using a cutting-edge DNA technique, detectives announced Tuesday they have identified Joey Lynn Ford -- who died in 1997 at the age of 36 -- as the likely suspect in the killing of the 57-year-old Danville woman.

"The Sheriff's Office and all of the law enforcement agencies involved were relentless in their handling of this case, they are the true heroes," said Marianna Wickman, Vincent's daughter. "So many were instrumental in getting us our closure and were sensitive to our needs. I am so very grateful."

Killed almost exactly 33 years ago, Vincent's body was found in her apartment by a concerned neighbor on Sept. 20, 1985. Police later determined that she was raped and murdered.

All potential leads were followed but the case still went cold for over three decades, authorities added.

Police were able to identify Ford after such a long time using a technique called the “familial search.”

In November 2017, investigators -- using a DNA profile that was crafted in 2002 -- submitted a request to the California Bureau of Forensic Services to perform this new method of investigation. Seven months later researchers were able to identify a possible match for DNA that was found at the crime scene.

Ford's body was exhumed and detectives were able to confirm what researchers believed: his DNA was a match. Sheriff's officials confirmed that this was the first-ever successful use of the familial search on a cold case in the Bay Area.

After the identification was made, investigators were able to further connect the victim with the accused by analyzing Ford’s movements during that time. According to the sheriff’s office, records indicate that Ford was arrested on suspicion of DUI the day before the murder just a short distance from Vincent's home.

Police added that Ford was working as a plumber in the area, and Vincent was a real estate agent, saying this is likely the connection between them but police are not yet certain how the two might be acquainted.

“Because the suspect Joey Ford is deceased, there will be no prosecution in this case,” Sheriff David Livingston said in a statement. “However, we hope that the identification of the suspect in the killing of Virginia Vincent brings her family and the community some closure in this painful case.”

In a statement, sheriff’s officials wanted to thank the California Department of Justice Bureau of Forensic Services and the Bureau of Investigation, as well as a special thanks to Rick Jackson, “a retired long-time LAPD homicide detective who now resides in the Bay Area, for his dedication and work on this case.”

This discovery is coming on the heels of the identification of a suspect in the Golden State Killer case, in which investigators also used modern DNA matching methods.

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