DNA helps Sacramento police identify suspect in decades-old cold case homicide

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — The family of 17-year-old Mary London has prayed for answers for nearly 40 years in order to finally know the identity of her suspected killer.

“The person that we’ve concluded was responsible for this was another young man around her, Mary’s, age that was murdered downtown in Sacramento a little over a year after he murdered Mary,” said Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn.

The suspected killer’s name is Vernon Parker.

It was in 1981 when London, a sophomore at Sacramento High School, was found in what was then a rural stretch of San Juan Road in North Sacramento.

Her half-sister, Esther Schneider, remembers seeing it on the news.

“I turned on channel 40. I was listening and stuff until I heard Mary,” she explained. “And I couldn’t believe my eyes when I seen that.” 

Investigators said London was found wearing only white socks and one shoe and that she died from multiple stab wounds.

“It was one of those ones that really tugged at your heartstrings because of the fact that she was a teenager and the manner of her death,” said Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert.

Despite detectives questioning countless people and following dozens of leads, the case grew cold.

Thirty-nine years later, new DNA technology generated new leads.

“Ultimately, it was through the marriage of genealogy and really good police work to identify the person that killed Mary London,” Schubert said.

Ninety-year-old retired Detective David Schwartz was one of the lead investigators working London’s case. FOX40 asked him if Parker was ever on the list of suspects.

“Not even a guess on that,” he said. “You always guess. You always say, ‘Well is it somebody that she knew?’ But apparently this is completely off the wall.”

Parker was never even looked at as a suspect. Whether they knew each other or not, investigators will likely never know at this point.

“Very, very satisfying to me. But, of course, the main thing I thought about was the poor family,” Schwartz said.

But for London’s family, just knowing who was responsible for ending her life is enough.

“I told Mary, ‘Now, you can rest,’” Schneider said.

“I was worried that this would never be solved,” said London’s niece, Wendy Olivos.

DNA technology has been producing essential results in Sacramento.

“We’ve seen over the last couple of years this has really become an option to solving some of these horrific crimes,” Hahn said.

The solving of these crimes gives solace to the families left behind, who are grateful.

“You’ll always be in my heart, always be in my heart, that you guys solved everything,” Schneider said. “Even she’s not here no more but she does have a family.”

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