41 years after San Diego woman’s rape and murder, DNA reveals a suspect
It’s coming up on 41 years since neighbors in Michelle Wyatt’s condo in the San Diego County town of Santee heard screams, and since her roommate came home the next day and made a horrifying discovery.
The 20-year-old college student was dead. She’d been raped and strangled.
For four decades, the deadly attack confounded every investigator who picked up the file. Years later, DNA seemed like it could help. But time and again, it didn’t.
Until suddenly, it did.
This week, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department homicide investigators said they had identified a suspect: John Patrick “Pat” Hogan, who was 18 when Wyatt was killed.
There will be no arrest. Hogan died of a drug overdose at 42 on Oct. 9, 2004, exactly 24 years from the day Wyatt was raped and killed.
“He’s the one that committed the sexual assault and murder. He would be arrested if he was alive,” Sheriff’s Lt. Tom Seiver said.
Wyatt’s parents are in their 80s now. They miss their daughter. And they wish they’d had the opportunity to confront the person accused of killing her.
“OK, he’s dead, but I would have liked to have been able to talk to this man,” said Louise Wyatt, Michelle’s mother. “I just feel horrible for the ending.”
Homicide investigators zeroed in on Hogan using a sleuthing method known as genetic genealogy, which gained prominence in 2018 after it was used to identify the Golden State Killer, who killed at least 13 people and raped dozens more across California from the 1970s to the 1980s.
The idea is to match DNA from a crime scene to relatives — even a third cousin will do — who have uploaded their DNA into public databases. A hit helps genealogists or investigators build family trees in hopes of putting a name to the mystery DNA.
Because Hogan is dead, sheriff’s detectives tracked down his relatives, who provided DNA samples that helped confirm the identification.
Born in Arizona, Hogan moved to Santee in the 1970s and had once lived at the condo complex where Michelle Wyatt lived. He still had friends there when she was attacked, sheriff’s officials said.
He joined the Air Force in 1979 and spent a brief stretch stationed in New Mexico, according to investigators. As an adult, he traveled frequently from California to Arizona and Idaho.
Wyatt was a native San Diegan who graduated from Patrick Henry High School in 1977. In October 1980, she was attending Grossmont College and working as a cashier at a Mission Hills Safeway.
“She was a real independent go-getter,” her father, Raymond Wyatt, said. “Pretty good in school. Knew what she wanted to do.”
Raymond Wyatt — who worked in the San Diego Union-Tribune pressroom for 47 years, retiring in 2007 — said his daughter was outdoorsy, liked “scuba diving and skating and having a good time.”
Louise Wyatt said her daughter was outgoing and “liked everyone, didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.”
In the hours before the deadly attack, Michelle Wyatt spent time with her boyfriend, hanging out and playing pool. Shortly before 1 a.m. Oct. 9, 1980, her boyfriend left, locking the door behind him.
Sometime later, neighbors in her condo complex on Kerrigan Court off Magnolia Avenue heard screams. No one called 911.
Wyatt’s roommate came home that afternoon and found her dead. News reports in 1980 state that detectives found no signs of forced entry.
In 1996, investigators tried a new technique: DNA. Some 90 people were interviewed. Several provided samples. Nothing hit.
Wyatt’s slaying captivated a retired San Diego police sex crimes and homicide detective who’d come across the case while moonlighting for the Sheriff’s Department. In a 1998 story on the case, the detective speculated Wyatt’s killer had been watching her and knocked on her door after her boyfriend left.
In June 2000, more DNA testing revealed there were two DNA profiles. One was her boyfriend, who had been eliminated as a suspect. The other person yielded no match in the national DNA criminal database
Two decades later, California authorities ran the DNA to see if the person was related to anyone in the criminal database. Again, they found nothing.
Last September, they turned to genetic genealogy. They have had success with the method before, and earlier this year they identified an unknown crime victim whose legs were found in 2003.
Wyatt’s parents are grateful for the detectives who kept the investigation going over 40 years.
“I wish there is something I could do for them,” Louise Wyatt said. “A hug and a thank you doesn’t seem like enough.”
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