Spurned Suitor Arrested in El Paso's Oldest Cold Case

DNA on Doris Rivers' fingernails matches early suspect: police
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 15, 2015 9:48 AM CDT
Spurned Suitor Arrested in El Paso's Oldest Cold Case
Willie Johnson, 70, is seen in this booking photo.   (El Paso Police Department)

Police in El Paso say they can finally close the books on what NBC News calls the city's oldest cold case: the brutal slaying of a young mother 45 years ago. After returning home from the movies just after midnight on Nov. 12, 1970, Doris Rivers' sister and 5-year-old son found the 21-year-old dead in front of the television with stab wounds to her back, neck, and side, and a kitchen knife broken off in her rib cage, reports the El Paso Times. Police had a few suspects but little to go on, though they saved the victim's fingernail clippings. They sat forgotten until 2013, when Rivers' granddaughter called police looking for information on the case. Soon after, cold-case detective Mike Aman found the clippings, but feared they were too deteriorated. Still, "I became kind of hopeful," he says, and sent them away for testing.

Officers were able to match the DNA that was ultimately found on them to that of an early suspect, Willie James Johnson. The 70-year-old lives in Madison County, Miss., but back in 1970, Johnson was a 25-year-old soldier at El Paso's Fort Bliss and an acquaintance of Rivers, reports the Times. He was arrested on Sept. 28 and is awaiting extradition. "It is believed that he had desired a romantic relationship with Rivers," police said in a statement. "However, she was not interested in having that type of relationship with him." Aman says Rivers' case "was not really on our radar because of its age," adding it's "extraordinary … that this little piece of physical evidence was collected back then and was still available to us." In a statement to KTSM, Rivers' son thanked everyone for their work on the case. (Read more cold cases stories.)

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