It’s been 27 years since the unsolved murder of Federal Way, Washington, teen Sarah Yarborough, but thanks to modern developments in DNA technology investigators were finally able to arrest the man they believe killed her.
On the morning of Dec. 14, 1991, the 16-year-old girl arrived at her high school to meet her drill team for an out-of-town event. She never boarded the bus.
She was later found beaten and strangled to death near the school.
Even though several witnesses reported that they saw a mysterious man at the school that morning, investigators were never able to identify who killed Sarah.
A man jogging past the school that morning remembered seeing a girl lying on the ground with a man kneeling over her. According to court documents, the jogger just thought it was a couple “making out.”
Then, at 9 a.m., two 12-year-old boys watched a suspicious man emerge from a bushy area near the school. After he left, the boys went back to the area and found Sarah’s body.
Semen was found on the teen’s clothes at the crime scene, but the DNA did not find a match in state nor national databases.
For decades, Sarah’s heartbreaking murder remained unsolved.
It wasn’t until a team of genealogists working on the case recently applied genetic genealogy techniques and investigators were finally able to see a break in the case.
Genetic genealogy helps investigators take unidentified DNA samples and trace the unknown suspect’s family tree.
Genealogists narrowed down the pool of suspects to two brothers but were easily able to rule out one brother because his DNA was already on file.
The second brother, however, did not have any DNA on file.
Investigators were able to obtain a cigarette butt from 55-year-old Patrick Nicholas after surveilling him, and the DNA found on that discarded cigarette matched the DNA that was collected from Sarah’s clothes in 1991.
“Few things are more satisfying in law enforcement than being able to tell a victim’s family that a suspect has been caught,” King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht said during a news conference Thursday. “Last night, deputies were able to tell Sarah Yarborough’s family that.”
Nicholas was arrested on Wednesday for Sarah’s murder.
Sara’s mom, Laura Yarborough, said she was extremely grateful for investigators’ dedication to solving her daughter’s murder, even admitting that there were times when she had given up hope.
“They had never given up,” she said, according to KCPQ. “Even when I had given up, they didn’t. I guess it’s a warning, if you do something heinous here, they’ll come to get you.”
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