A chilling murder case that had remained unsolved for over forty years has finally been cracked, thanks to the cutting-edge technology of genetic genealogy. New Hampshire authorities recently made the announcement, heralding a major stride forward in justice.
The tragic incident dates back to the early hours of September 28, 1981, when the lifeless body of 23-year-old Laura Kempton was found in her Portsmouth apartment. It was a harrowing discovery for the investigators, as Laura had returned home alone after spending a night out with a friend. The autopsy revealed that she had succumbed to massive trauma on the left side of her head.
Despite countless leads and a painstaking search for suspects, law enforcement had always been stymied by the presence of a male DNA profile found at the crime scene. Yet, a breakthrough finally emerged.
In 2022, authorities made an advancement by re-evaluating DNA samples from the crime scene using forensic genetic genealogy technology. This ultimately led to the identification of the suspect as Ronney James Lee, who was just 21 years old at the time of the tragic incident. However, closure was hard to come by, as Lee had already passed away due to acute cocaine intoxication on February 9, 2005, at the age of 45.
New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella shared that, had Lee still been alive, he would have faced first-degree murder charges for his alleged involvement in Laura Kempton’s death, which was deemed to be connected to a sexual assault.
During a press briefing, Formella confirmed that the case had been officially closed and marked as solved. He acknowledged that the news might evoke mixed emotions for Kempton’s family.
The family of Laura Kempton released a statement expressing their “deep gratitude” to the Portsmouth police for their unwavering commitment to solving the case. They acknowledged the decades of diligence, determination, and personal investment that ultimately led to this crucial breakthrough.
Laura Kempton had a bright future ahead of her before her life was tragically cut short. At the time of her death, she was studying hairdressing at Portsmouth Beauty School and had just begun working at a local gift store. Described as an outgoing free spirit with a penchant for new wave fashion, she left a lasting impact on those who knew her.
The breakthrough in this cold case came after years of fruitless attempts to find a DNA match in various databases. It was only in 2021 that investigators considered using forensic genetic genealogy through whole genome sequencing, which proved to be a viable option for identifying suspects in cold cases.
In a critical breakthrough in May 2022, the suspect’s DNA profile finally matched with two relatives in a third-party public genetic genealogy database, leading them to Ronney James Lee. Subsequent investigations confirmed that Lee’s DNA profile matched the DNA samples recovered from Kempton’s apartment after the attack, including DNA found on a cigarette butt.
The evidence left little doubt that Ronney James Lee was responsible for the first-degree murder of Laura Kempton. Prosecutors described the crime as a “calculated” break-in and a “sexually motivated” attack that escalated into more violence than the perpetrator had anticipated. The murder weapon was believed to be a glass bottle.
Investigators revealed that Ronney James Lee had served in the U.S. Army until 1981. He had a history of criminal activities and was convicted in 1987 for charges related to a burglary that included a sexual assault in Keene, New Hampshire. Lee served time in state prison from December 1987 to July 1990.
This groundbreaking achievement in solving a decades-old cold case not only brings some closure to the family and friends of Laura Kempton but also demonstrates the power of genetic genealogy in shedding light on long-standing mysteries.