Police use new DNA testing to find answers in 27-year-old murder case

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“I can’t believe he did this to me,” Maria Caleel told police respondents right before she lost consciousness.

In the early hours of March 6, 1988, Caleel was stabbed in the abdomen inside her apartment. Urbana Police scoured the scene, but couldn’t find any evidence pointing to a suspect, a motive or the weapon used.

The Urbana Police Department and a private detective hired by Caleel’s family have continued to investigate who killed her, but incriminating evidence was never found. Throughout the years, police have received tips and leads, despite the aging of the case. Now 27 years later, the police are still hard at work to find the killer using new technology to help solve the case.

Police are using updated DNA tests in hopes of finding a match to a suspect in the database system.

“Three years ago, we resubmitted some stuff on the premise of DNA testing is better,” said Urbana Police Sgt. Dan Morgan, the lead detective on the case. “We did it again this time with an eye toward a specific source and a specific location, trying to zero in on where we would most likely find what we’re looking for.”

Caleel was a first-year veterinarian student at the University. She previously attended Brown University.

The police haven’t revealed this information until now because they needed to get DNA from potential suspects. Some people complied with the authorities, but most other DNA samples had to be taken secretly, Morgan said.

“The process for the last few years then is that we’re going back and getting DNA samples from a pretty lengthy list of more or less probable suspects of various levels of interest, and so we started from that,” Morgan said. “We haven’t said anything about the fact that there has been DNA for several years because we wanted to collect DNA from people, and we are going to continue to do that.”

Forensic DNA tests, also known as profiling, take the DNA found at a crime scene or on the victim and compare it to the DNA of suspects.

Although the police aren’t disclosing where the DNA was found, Morgan said the DNA profile the lab turned over could be linked to the suspects. A DNA profile contains a small set of DNA variations that are likely to be different in unrelated individuals. Although 99.9 percent of DNA is the same in all humans, there is enough different DNA to distinguish one person from the next. Profiling uses repetitive sequences that are highly variable, making it almost impossible for unrelated people to have the same repeating sequence. Police believe this test could be the one piece of evidence that uncovers Caleel’s killer.

“For now, everything is in the realm of possibility,” Morgan said. “Any information that comes in, we’re going to follow up on it — an amazing amount for something so old has come in.”

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