DNA from fast-food straw led FBI to stalker who threatened 'CSI: Miami' actress for 12 years

James David Rogers of Heath, Ohio was sentenced to 40 months in prison after threatening to rape, kill Eva LaRue's daughter

ByJean Casarez and Brandon Griggs, CNN, CNNWire
Saturday, September 24, 2022
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OHIO -- The threatening letters began in March 2007.

They came in the mail to Eva LaRue's Southern California house -- sometimes handwritten, sometimes typed -- from an unknown sender who called himself "Freddie Krueger" and vowed to rape and kill her and her young daughter, CNN reported.

The letters -- more than three dozen of them -- kept on coming for more than 12 years, a relentless psychological assault that made the "CSI: Miami" actress and her family afraid to step outside their home.

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Early on, some letters mentioned LaRue's daughter, then 5. But in 2015, letters began arriving addressed to the child. The stalker also began calling LaRue's daughter's school, saying that he was her father and was outside to pick her up.

But with the help of genetic genealogy, a science that was used for the first time in California to capture the Golden State Killer, the FBI in 2019 was able to take DNA from the envelopes and run it through a database, yielding a list of the suspect's relatives. This eventually led them to a small town in Ohio, where they arrested a 58-year-old man after pulling his DNA from a discarded Arby's straw.

James David Rogers was sentenced Thursday to 40 months in federal prison. The Heath, Ohio, man pleaded guilty in April to two counts of mailing threatening communications, one count of threats by interstate communications, and two counts of stalking.

"I forgive you, but I cannot forget," LaRue told him at the sentencing in a Los Angeles County courtroom. "The fear is with me forever."

12 years of terror

LaRue is a former beauty queen and longtime actress who appeared for many years as a doctor on the soap opera "All My Children." She's probably best known for her seven seasons on the crime drama "CSI: Miami," ending in 2012.

Her character was a DNA analyst for the Miami-Dade Police Department, which became a bitter irony when authorities found DNA on envelopes containing the threatening letters but couldn't pinpoint a suspect.

LaRue was midway through her second full season on "CSI: Miami" when the first letter showed up at her house. Others soon followed.

"I am going to f**king stalk you until the day you die," said one, according to a 2019 federal indictment of Rogers.

"There will be no place on this earth that I ... (can't) find you. I am going to rape you," said another letter, in which the stalker also threatened to rape and impregnate LaRue's daughter.

The letters were signed "Freddie Krueger," the fictional killer from the horror film series "A Nightmare on Elm Street." Many were postmarked from Youngstown, Ohio.

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LaRue told CNN she was so terrified that she eventually sold her house and moved with her family to Italy, where they lived for several months with a friend. She then returned to California and bought a new house under an LLC -- a business entity that provides limited liability protection -- to shield her identity, but the letters began showing up at that address as well, she said.

LaRue and her daughter "drove circuitous routes home, slept with weapons nearby and had discussions about how to seek help quickly if [Rogers] found them and tried to harm them," federal prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

"They tried to anonymize their addresses as much as possible by avoiding receiving mail and packages at their actual address," prosecutors said. "To no avail. Each time they moved, [the] letters -- and the victims' terror -- would always follow."

In 2015, the family started receiving letters addressed to LaRue's daughter. At the time, she was about 13.

"I am the man who has been stalking for (the) last 7 years. Now I have set my eye on you too," the first one read, according to the indictment. Another one read, "You look so beautiful in your pictures on google. Are you ready to be the mother of my child."

How the FBI caught the stalker

The FBI collected DNA from many of the envelopes but didn't know whose it was until 2019, when they turned to the emerging field of genetic genealogy -- the same method that had fingered the Golden State Killer the previous year.

Thanks in part to companies such as 23andMe, Ancestry and GEDmatch, genetic genealogy has become a valuable tool for law enforcement officers trying to solve old crimes. Authorities upload a DNA data file to a public database to identify any relatives of the person who might have submitted their DNA for testing. They then build out family trees and narrow down possible suspects via old-fashioned detective work until a lead suspect emerges.

Even so, investigators still must obtain a sample of the suspect's DNA and make a match before they can make an arrest.

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Once the evidence pointed to Rogers, FBI agents began surveilling him. FBI agents traveled to Ohio in the fall of 2019, former FBI special agent Stephen Busch and former FBI attorney Steve Kramer told CNN.

When Rogers left his job as a nurse's assistant at an assisted living facility and went to an Arby's on his way home, the FBI followed and watched him eat his meal and discard the bag in a Dumpster, Busch and Kramer said.

Agents raided the Dumpster and extracted Rogers' DNA from a soda straw in the bag, Busch and Kramer said. It matched the DNA from the envelopes sent to LaRue and her daughter, they said.

The FBI arrested Rogers at his home early one morning in November 2019.

Rogers' conviction marks the first time genetic genealogy has solved a case on the federal level, Busch and Kramer told CNN.

Their fear still lingers

At his sentencing Thursday, Rogers told the judge via a video link from Ohio that he grew up in an abusive home and was bullied in school. He said he is receiving mental health treatment.

"I sincerely apologize for what I did for the last 12 years, putting you and your family through hellish behavior," he said to LaRue. "I accept full responsibility. I hope you can put this behind you and at some point never think about me again."

LaRue then addressed Rogers in her victim impact statement, thanking him for his apology but telling the judge, "I am so worried what will happen when he gets out out."

She grew emotional as she told the court how the repeated threats took a toll on her and her family and deprived them of basic freedoms.

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"We have had years of this," she said. "This is beyond deviant behavior."

LaRue's daughter Kaya Callahan, now 20, also became emotional as she told the court how she was traumatized by Rogers' threats.

After Rogers contacted her school, she said there was such "paranoia" about her safety that she was escorted every day to and from the school building to the parking lot.

"I was afraid for my life," she said. Callahan said her fear still lingers.

"I want to feel OK again," she said. "Safe."

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