Police solve 33-year-old crime using DNA evidence

San Francisco police have solved a 33-year old murder — one of the oldest in the department's history — through a database that matched the DNA of the suspect with a Stockton felon, according to police.

Police arrested John Puckett, 71, Friday morning in connection with the death of Diana Sylvester, a 38-year-old University of California nurse, who was killed on Dec. 22, 1972 in her apartment in the 1200 block of 6th Street.

After a swab test, police matched Puckett's DNA against the DNA collected at the scene of the crime. Sylvester was stabbed in her apartment and was probably raped, according to Morris Tabak, Deputy Chief of Investigations for the San Francisco Police Department.

Sylvester's roommate discovered her body at the scene of the crime. Puckett lived in San Francisco at the time of the murder, Tabak said.

“It's the future — you are going to see more and more of these cases solved on DNA,” Tabak said.

The police collected a DNA sample from Puckett because he is a felon. In 2004, state voters passed Proposition 69 that requires felons to provide DNA samples to law enforcement officials. The police then compare those DNA samples against a database of DNA samples taken at the scene of past crimes.

Tabak said the department had had “several dozen” hits on similar DNA “cold cases,” as they are known, including some from as early as the mid- to late 1960s.

For instance, the courts found William Speer, 68, guilty in what is believed to be the oldest “cold hit” case in California's history inNovember 2005. Speer was found guilty of murdering and raping then-14-year-old Linda Harmon in 1968 as she was baby-sitting at a neighbor's apartment. Harmon had been raped and stabbed repeatedly with a carving fork and kitchen knife.

jjouvenal@examiner.com

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