HAMILTON, OH (FOX19) - Hamilton Police announced Friday that they've solved a 20-year-old homicide of an elderly man using DNA analysis.
Hamilton Police Chief J. Scott Scrimizzi said detectives on Tuesday received notification that the suspect had been positively identified from a submitted hair sample through DNA technology. The suspect is Wendell Proffitt who died from a drug overdose in 2002 at the age of 49.
Scrimizzi said Proffitt was one of the suspects early in the investigation but detectives were unable to conclusively connect him to the crime. Proffitt had an extensive record with Hamilton Police, including an October 1996 felonious assault with a knife charge.
The case dates back to Oct. 18, 1994 when 76-year-old Emerson Skinner was stabbed to death in his apartment in the 700 block of Ludlow Street in Hamilton. Officers initially responded because of a neighbor who was concerned that they had not seen Skinner for a couple of days.
Patrol officers found Skinner lying in a pool of blood in his home. He suffered numerous stab wounds along with his throat being cut. The man had been stabbed nearly 50 times but there were no witnesses, according to FOX19 archives.
Scrimizzi called it one of the most brutal murders he's ever seen.
"It was obvious to investigators that Mr. Skinner had put up a fight as he had several defensive wounds along with several long human hairs clinched in his hands that belonged to his assailant," Scrimizzi said.
Police interviewed 28 individuals as possible suspects but none could be positively linked to the homicide.
"Over the years, as is routine in cold case homicides, several other detectives examined the case file, adding additional pieces to the puzzle," Scrimizzi said.
Until recent years forensic technology wasn't advanced enough to make a match but all the while Scrimizzi says high on investigators' list was Proffitt.
During the past year, detectives again began reviewing the case. They contacted the Ohio Bureau of Investigation and requested their help in reviewing physical evidence, specifically hairs recovered at the scene.
Scrimizzi said because of the advancement in technology and the teamwork between Hamilton Police and a BCI DNA analyst, a DNA profile of the suspect was established.
The profile was checked with the Combined DNA Index System (a database) but it resulted in no matching profiles. During the investigation, 28 hair samples were collected from possible suspects. Those samples were sent to BCI for comparison.
"Proffitt was a good suspect because he lived in the area. His mother lived three doors away. We knew that he cut Skinner's grass so he was a prime suspect. So we still had his hair and we sent the hair up there and they said 'bingo you got a match.'"
Scrimizzi says investigators believe Skinner died in a robbery that went bad.
"It was probably robbery. All of the cabinets in the kitchen had been gone through. It appeared to us at the time that probably Mr. Skinner was home and awakened possibly by a burglar who came in. There was quite a bit of money that was located inside the kitchen cabinets. All the kitchen cabinets were open.
"We believe that the suspect after he killed Mr. Skinner left without going through everything because either he was scared off. I mean it was a violent, violent scene. He was stabbed numerous, numerous times. (Proffitt) left without getting anything and actually the family members told detectives (Skinner) keeps a large amount of money in his kitchen cabinets and it was still there."
Teresa Proffitt Randall, Proffitt's sister, says news of her brother's involvement is hard to take.
"I'm pretty devastated to know that my brother would have done this to anybody. I want to express my condolences to the Skinner family," she said. "We had no idea or we would have turned him in ourselves. We're sorry for your loss."
Hamilton Police are hoping the Skinner family can get some kind of closure from this development.
"Detectives recently met with family members of Mr. Skinner and confirmed for them that the case had finally been solved," Scrimizzi said. "Hopefully, this will bring some closure to their lives."
Scrimizzi said detectives James Smith and Steve Rogers were the most recent investigators who worked on the case.
"They, along with previous investigators, many who are now retired, should be commended for a job well done," Scrimizzi said.