A man who died in 1999 has been identified as a suspect in the 1980 killing of an Irvine mother in Newport Beach, thanks to advances in DNA technology and investigative genetic genealogy, police announced Monday.
Kenneth Elwin Marks is believed to be the person responsible for killing 42-year-old Judith “Judy” Nesbitt on Nov. 26, 1980, while she was showing her family’s boat to a man she thought was a potential buyer, Newport Beach Police Department officials said in a news release.
That afternoon, Marks followed Nesbitt into the boat’s sleeping quarters and, after a violent struggle, shot the mother and stole her credit cards, checkbooks and cash before fleeing the scene, police said.
“Marks died in 1999 without ever being identified as the suspect in Nesbitt’s murder, but generations of Newport Beach police officers never gave up on the cold case,” the Police Department said.
Investigators used genetic genealogy and new forensic crime solving techniques to tie Marks to the cold case killing.
“This is a case that has hung heavy in the hearts of our community, our department, and the Nesbitt family,” Newport Beach Police Chief Jon T. Lewis said in a statement. “Kenneth Marks has passed away, but he no longer gets to hold the secret of his deeds. Through incredible advances in technology, and the tireless dedication of these investigators, we now have some closure for all who knew and loved Judy Nesbitt.”
Hairs from the suspect had been kept as evidence since the killing.
In 2002, a limited DNA profile was extracted from the roots of the hairs and entered into an FBI system, but it yielded no matches.
Then, in 2018, investigators were able to get a more expanded DNA profile from the hairs with help from an independent lab.
“This was the first DNA extraction of its kind to identify a murderer in a criminal investigation in the United States,” police said.
Investigators then used genetic genealogy techniques to identify Marks as the killer in the case.
Officials said police spoke with the victim’s family to let them know that the case was solved, more than 40 years after the killing.