A cold case has been cracked open, thanks to the help of DNA and Legos. Talk about piecing together a puzzle. A decades-old cold case murder was solved with the help of Legos, the colorful interlocking plastic bricks that have now served as a central piece of evidence to close an unsolved murder investigation.
Writes ABC News: “Fingerprints found on Lego building blocks helped police crack a 23-year-old cold case murder mystery in Utah, authorities said. The gruesome murder of 78-year-old Lucille Johnson in Salt Lake City left police puzzled in 1991. The grandmother was strangled and beaten in her home and police found Legos in the entryway of her living room and driveway the floor, but were unable to discern who killed her, the Salt Lake Sheriff's Office said.”
Two critical pieces of DNA were discovered by forensic investigators when the case was reopened last year: DNA under Johnson’s fingernails and fingerprints on a handful of Legos found at the scene. Both pointed to one man – John Sansing, 47, a convicted criminal who already sits on death row in Arizona for the murder of a church worker performing a charity food service delivery.
While the DNA under Johnson’s fingernails matched Sansing, the fingerprints on the Legos matched those of Sansing’s son, who was only five years old at the time and who evidently was in the home when Johnson was bludgeoned to death. Investigators said it’s possible that Sansing used his boy to get into the home.
“We know there's no relationship between [Johnson and Sansing],” Lt. Justin Hoyal of the Salt Lake City Sheriff's Office said. “It's speculative as to whether the child was a ruse that was used, but it's certainly a possibility.”
Utah Sheriff Jim Winder said that Sansing had been formally charged with Johnson’s murder, calling Sansing nothing short of pure “evil.”
“Occasionally we encounter people who are evil,” Winder said in an announcement Thursday. “The individual who perpetrated this is nothing short of that.”
Lucille’s son and daughter both spoke at the press conference.
“It was very important that it be solved,” Jerry Johnson said. “I wasn't sure it would ever be solved.
Lucille’s daughter, Shirley England, agreed. “I am so grateful, so very grateful to the police department for the work that they’ve done. I don’t think closure is the right word because you never close something like this. It’s been a terrible thing in our life.”
Police said that jewelry was missing from Johnson’s home back in 1991, and believe Sansing’s motive to be a robbery. The Daily Mail reported on Sansing’s other murder charge that put him on death row:
On February 24, 1998, Sansing, a married father of four, called the Living Springs Assembly of God Church in Avondale, Arizona, and requested a food box be delivered to his house. When the church worker, Elizabeth 'Trudy' Calabrese, 41, arrived, Sansing tied her up with electrical cords and hit her on the head with a broom, according to Supreme Court of Arizona records.
Similar to the Johnson murder, investigators said Sansing's children witnessed him and his wife kill Calabrese, who was sexually assaulted by Sansing before being stabbed to death and buried in the yard.