New Suspect Photo Released in Search for Witnesses in 1973 Homicide, Sexual Assault of Newport Beach Girl
The day after announcing the arrest of a suspect in the 1973 sexual assault and killing of an 11-year-old girl in Newport Beach, authorities on Thursday released a photo showing what the man looked like around the time of the attack in hopes that additional witnesses will come forward.
After nearly half a century of investigation, James Alan Neal was named Wednesday as the man accused of abducting Linda Ann O’Keefe on her walk home from school in July 1973, then molesting and killing her, dumping her strangled body in a ditch in Newport Beach’s Back Bay.
Neal, 72, was taken into custody Tuesday in Colorado, where he now lives. He’s still weighing whether he will fight extradition to face the Orange County charges but is expected to state his decision at a Feb. 28 court appearance, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported.
Though officials released a more current driver’s license photo of Neal on Wednesday, they hope the image shared Thursday will lead anyone who may have seen Neal at or around the time of the killing to come forward. It’s unknown exactly when the snapshot was taken, but it was likely in the late ’70s or early ’80s, O.C. prosecutors said in a news release.
Although authorities had said Neal went by the name of James Alan George Layton at the time of the killing, on Thursday they said that was wrong — the actual name was James Albert Layton, Jr. Investigators believe he lived in Southern California in the 1970s and had changed his name following an incident in Florida.
DNA evidence collected at the crime scene eventually linked Neal to the case after investigators matched it with data from a genealogical website, O.C. District Attorney Todd Spitzer said.
The DA’s office said Newport Beach police detectives got a tip from Family Tree DNA‘s lab in Houston, Texas, and were able to identify Neal as the suspect with additional assistance from genetic genealogist CeCe Moore of Parabon NanoLabs in Reston, Virginia.
Last summer, investigators took to Twitter to reignite interest in the case on the 45th anniversary of O’Keefe’s death. In a series of nearly 40 tweets tagged #LindasStory, police relayed the case from the dead 11-year-old perspective, building a portrait of her personality and the fateful day alongside photos from her childhood.
It’s unclear whether the campaign is what generated the genealogy leads.
Neal is now facing charges of murder, kidnapping and lewd and lascivious act upon a child under 14, according to Spitzer.
O’Keefe’s parents have died, but she’s survived by two sisters who have been informed of the arrest, officials said.
The Los Angeles Times spoke with one of the sisters, Cindy Borgeson, who said she was eating at In-N-Out when she got the call from Newport Beach police.
“I really in my wildest dreams never thought this would be the outcome,” Borgeson, who was 18-year-old when her sister was killed, told the newspaper.
Newport Beach police ask anyone with further information on the investigation to call their cold-case tip line at 949-644-3669.