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Investigators took DNA from airline passenger’s water bottle to ARREST him for 1985 cold case murder

Investigators used DNA taken from an airline passenger’s water bottle to arrest him for a 1985 cold case murder featured in a 1991 episode of Unsolved Mysteries.

Michael Jefferson, 64, has been charged with murder and kidnapping after he allegedly forced Roger Dean, 51, to tie up his wife D.J. while demanding $30,000 from them before shooting Dean to death and fleeing about 36 years ago in Colorado.

The intruder, who was wearing a ski mask, had broken into the Deans’ home in the early morning on November 21 and shot Dean five times when he tried to run from the home in Lone Tree. He died on the way to the hospital.

Jefferson, who now lives in New Orleans, was arrested earlier this month in Los Angeles and was extradited to Colorado on Tuesday, District Attorney John Kellner said at a news conference on Friday.

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Michael Jefferson, 64, has been charged with murder and kidnapping for a 1985 cold case

He allegedly forced Roger Dean, 51, to tie up his wife D.J. while demanding $30,000 from them before shooting him to death

He allegedly forced Roger Dean, 51, to tie up his wife D.J. while demanding $30,000 from them before shooting him to death

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock, who was at the scene after the 1985 shooting, called it 'an interesting case' during the news conference on Friday

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock, who was at the scene after the 1985 shooting, called it ‘an interesting case’ during the news conference on Friday

He is being held in the Douglas County Jail on a no bond hold, officials said. If convicted, Jefferson may face sentencing under 1985 statutes – which means he would face life in prison with the ability of parole after 40 years. 

He would be at least 104 at the time he is eligible for parole if convicted.

Officials provided few details about how Jefferson was caught during the press conference. However, KUSA obtained a copy of an affidavit that outlines how the case was finally solved.

Jefferson had left his ski mask behind at the crime scene on which investigators found hair samples, though technology at the time could not analyze it.

Investigators with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation were able to create a DNA profile from it in 2003 but the national database it was entered into provided no leads, according to KUSA.  

Eventually, a new DNA analysis was made in 2018 and it investigators last year were able to determine possible parents for the suspect through genealogy.

The possible parents had two sons and one of the sons, Jefferson, had lived in Colorado, according to the affidavit. He also had a criminal history in Denver.

Detectives with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office started to keep tabs on Jefferson, KUSA reported. He took a flight on Spirit Airlines between Los Angeles and New Orleans where two deputies were on board.

The detectives spotted Jefferson drinking from a plastic water bottle during the flight, which he gave to a flight attendant to throw away.

‘Detectives intercepted the disposal and collected the water bottle without Michael knowing,’ the affidavit reads, according to KUSA.

During the investigation, it was revealed at the time that Dean had deposited $30,000 from his business into a secret bank account

During the investigation, it was revealed at the time that Dean had deposited $30,000 from his business into a secret bank account

The Jefferson case was featured in a 1991 episode of the hit series Unsolved Murders

The Jefferson case was featured in a 1991 episode of the hit series Unsolved Murders

Roger Dean's widow D.J. appeared in the 1991 episode of Unsolved Murders regarding the case

Roger Dean’s widow D.J. appeared in the 1991 episode of Unsolved Murders regarding the case

The show revealed that the extortion suspect, who is allegedly Jefferson, narrowly avoided arrest on August 19, 1990

The show revealed that the extortion suspect, who is allegedly Jefferson, narrowly avoided arrest on August 19, 1990

DNA testing from the water bottle matched the hair found in the ski mask, officials said.

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock, who was at the scene after the 1985 shooting, called it ‘an interesting case’ during the news conference on Friday.

‘I happened to have been involved in it from 1985. There was also an extortion attempt on the family in 1990 and we’ve been working on the case since that time,’ he said.

‘This case has been opened a number of times but it wasn’t until this new technology and the ability for us to identify individuals through genetic genealogy that we came to this point.’

Spurlock was also the lead detective on another case involving the Dean family.

A scene from the 1991 episode of Unsolved Mysteries shows an ambulance and deputies outside the home

A scene from the 1991 episode of Unsolved Mysteries shows an ambulance and deputies outside the home

In 1990, a man threatened Dean’s wife with letters and phone calls demanding that she pay him $150,000 he claimed he was owed, KUSA reported. The man threatened to kill the couple’s daughter, Tammy.

The affidavit claims that Jefferson’s voice matches that of the sender on recordings of those threatening calls. 

Jefferson’s connection with the Dean family remains unknown – however Spurlock alleged in the 1991 Unsolved Mysteries episode that it was a scam and Dean was in on it, KCNC-TV noted.

‘We believe that Roger hired an individual to come over to basically kidnap him, take him to his bank, withdraw $30,000 from their account, and then obviously drop Roger off someplace so Roger could report a robbery and he would have that $30,000 to himself,’ Spurlock said at the time.

Spurlock also told the TV show at the time that he believed items found at the home were planted to make it appear as if Dean had been blindfolded and bound, the outlet noted.

The website for Unsolved Mysteries noted that ‘from the beginning, several aspects of the case puzzled investigators.’

‘Roger had twine marks on only one wrist, so it appeared that he had never actually been tied up by the gunman,’ the TV show noted.

‘Also, Roger was wearing contact lenses when he was shot. Yet, strangely, in an upstairs bedroom, his glasses were found covered with duct tape.’

During the investigation, it was revealed at the time that Dean had deposited $30,000 from his business into a secret bank account.

The show revealed that the extortion suspect, who is allegedly Jefferson, narrowly avoided arrest on August 19, 1990.

According to Unsolved Mysteries, Jefferson allegedly told the family to leave $100,000 in an alley behind a Denver apartment building but he never showed up to pick up the cash.

FBI agents were tasked with watching as ‘the drop’ was made and waited until dawn.

‘Whether or not he spotted something, whether or not he just took for granted that the law enforcement was involved, or whether or not he got cold feet,’ said Special Agent Bob Pence of the Denver FBI.

‘And although he didn’t detect any type of law enforcement, he just was too scared to actually make the pick-up. I think all of those are possibilities.’ 


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