DNA evidence on napkin leads to suspect in 1993 cold case murder of woman stabbed 65 times

ByJennifer Mayerle, WCCO
Friday, September 9, 2022
Napkin leads to suspect in 1993 cold case murder
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DNA solves cold case killing of woman stabbed 65 times

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- A Minnesota man found guilty in a brutal cold-case murder was sentenced Friday.

DNA evidence led the jury to find Jerry Westrom guilty in the 1993 murder of Jeanie Childs in Minneapolis.

The jury foreperson broke down the three things that made a lasting impact on jurors.

Within the boxes of evidence presented in court that the jury saw included a napkin Westrom threw away at a hockey game.

It is also the first look inside the gruesome crime scene of the Minneapolis apartment where Westrom murdered Childs decades ago after stabbing her 65 times.

"He would have had to chase her around the apartment, stabbing her multiple times over and over again. He really wanted her to die," said jury foreperson Derek Fradenburgh.

Connecting Westrom to the murder started with a hit on a genealogy website, linking his DNA to DNA collected in 1993 at the crime scene.

"It's a story. It's fascinating," Fradenburgh said.

But investigators needed more, so they tracked him to a hockey game in Wisconsin. They then watched and waited for Westrom to throw this napkin away in this cardboard tray to collect his DNA.

"Listening to that testimony in court, it's incredibly gripping stuff," Fradenburgh added. "For that to be the thing that brought him down, I guess, is really incredible."

Investigators used that match to arrest Westrom and to build their case.

His DNA found on the comforter, a bloody bathroom towel, washcloth, a t-shirt and in the sink. Then there's the bloody footprint.

"Even the most charitable reading was one of the footprints for sure were his," Fradenburgh said.

Fradenburgh said there's no way to explain away the footprint. It confirmed Westrom's guilt for the jury.

"It's not a shoe impression or anything like that. It's his bare footprint, and our feet have the same ridges and whirls and everything that our palms and fingers do," Fradenburgh said.

Prosecutors then played Westrom's 2019 interview with police. It's the only time jurors heard from Westrom while on trial, where he denied he knew Childs and what happened in the Minneapolis apartment.

"He's just a guy who didn't have a whole lot to say, but what he had to say, I know they were lies," Fradenburgh said.

Fradenburgh said those three things are what made the jury's decision: the police interview, DNA and the bloody footprint.

"He said he wasn't there. His DNA proves that he was there. It puts him there. His footprint puts him there at the time of the murder," Fradenburgh said.

He said he feels for Childs' family, saying no one deserves to die that way.

"That's why it matters that it came up 30 years later. It was so brutal. It's so graphic. You can't just let this go," Fradenburgh said.

The jury reached its guilty verdict in two hours.