On August 26, 2017, the LA Times announced that the case of Wendy Jo Halison had been solved in 2016 after 48 years.
In September 1968, Wendy Jo Halison, a 22-year-old art student called her sister Linda on a Sunday, telling her there was a hairdryer on sale at a shop called Thrifty, and did she want to go buy one? Her sister declined, wanting to spend the day with her young family. It was a decision that still haunts her decades later.
Wendy drove her green Thunderbird to Wilshire Boulevard, in Los Angeles to the Thrifty shop and bought the hairdryer. She then continued down the street and filled up her car at the gas station. It was the last time she was seen alive.
The family were concerned when they hadn’t heard from Wendy and called the police. The police weren’t willing to start looking right away, they told the family that they couldn’t launch a missing persons case so quickly. The husband of Linda, Wendy’s sister, was a private investigator. He and some friends started looking for Wendy right away.
Only an hour into the search the next morning, Wendy’s boyfriend, a passenger flying in a search helicopter, spotted her car. People would long remain suspicious that he was able to find the car so quickly. The private investigator brother-in-law, Gil, went in the car and found the car keys on the back seat. Gil used the key to open the trunk. Inside, he found Wendy’s body. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled. The killer hadn’t taken her jewelry; the only missing was the hairdryer.
Police worked from the angle that Wendy knew her killer. This was based on the idea that the killer may have known that Wendy was shopping alone, and that strangulation is considered a personal crime. The boyfriend who spotted Wendy’s car stood out to investigators. They wondered, how did he see Wendy’s car so quickly from the helicopter? They gave him a polygraph test, which he failed, casting even more suspicion on him.
Yet still detectives were unable to solve the case. Fast forward an entire thirty years to 1998, and the Los Angeles Police Department were starting to use DNA evidence in their cases. As luck would have it, there was an available DNA sample from Wendy’s clothes. The investigators diligently worked to get the DNA tested against Wendy’s boyfriend, an ex-boyfriend, Gil the brother-in-law and another male friend. The DNA matched none of them.
It took another painful eighteen years to get the answers. The LAPD was finally able to run the DNA sample through the state database in 2016. The reason they were unable to do this before was because the DNA sample was degraded. Improved technology now could identify enough markers in the DNA for the state system. It came back with a match.
Edwin Dean Richardson was convicted in 1981 of killing Jo Anna Boughner in Ohio and spent the rest of his life in prison. His criminal record also includes the murder of Marla Jean Hires, kidnapping of two girls, and attempted robbery and kidnapping.
He died in 2013, three years before his DNA identified him as the murderer of Wendy. This case was solved after 48 years, the oldest cold case the LAPD had ever solved. The police now believe Richardson could be responsible for other crimes. Margaret Schuit disappeared from the same Thrifty store a year after Wendy was killed. Margaret’s body was later fund in Burbank. Unfortunately, the evidence from Schuit’s case is lost and her case remains cold.
This case just goes to show how difficult it can be to solve an opportunistic killing, committed by a perpetrator with no prior connection to the victim. It’s something I keep in mind when I write about these cold cases which seem motiveless. That’s because sometimes, they are.