A Colorado man charged with sexually assaulting and killing an 11-year-old girl in Newport Beach in 1973 has been extradited and is due to be arraigned in an Orange County courtroom Wednesday, authorities said.
James Alan Neal, 72, was booked into Orange County Jail about 10:20 p.m. Monday. He was arrested in Colorado Springs on Feb. 19 in connection with the strangulation death of Linda Ann O’Keefe, who lived in Corona del Mar.
The girl disappeared while walking home from summer school on July 6, 1973, and her body was recovered the following morning in a ditch in the Back Bay area. Police said she was last seen standing near a man in a blue or turquoise van.
Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis last month credited “the latest in DNA technology” for helping crack the case that stymied investigators for more than four decades.
“We have never forgotten Linda or the tragic events of July 1973,” Lewis said at a news conference announcing the arrest, noting that the victim’s photo had long been displayed in the offices of his department’s detectives as a daily reminder of the unsolved case.
He said the girl’s death changed the community, making parents think twice about letting their children outside alone.
Neal is been charged with murder with a special circumstances allegation of kidnapping and lewd acts on a child.
Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer said Neal could potentially face a death sentence if convicted, although there is some question about whether capital punishment could be applied in the case given the date of the killing and the laws that were on the books at the time.
Newport Beach police in July mounted a Twitter campaign, releasing information about the killing to try to spur new leads, but that was not what led to Neal’s arrest.
Investigators submitted the DNA collected from the victim to the Family Tree website, and it gave them leads pointing to Neal, Spitzer said. From there, police put the defendant under surveillance and collected his DNA and matched it to the evidence collected from the victim.
The police tweets detailing the last hours of Linda’s life included photographs from the crime scene and a newly created “snapshot” of the suspect that was put together by scientists at Parabon NanoLabs. The tweets concluded with a video that included interviews with the detectives who have worked on finding the girl’s killer through the years.
Newport Beach police last year hired Parabon, a Virginia-based DNA technology company specializing in a process using genetic material, to build a sort of composite sketch of the suspect at 25 years old and how the killer might look today.
Neal moved to Southern California with his family from Chicago, Spitzer said, and was a construction worker at the time of Linda’s slaying. He moved to Florida soon after the killing, but after an unspecified criminal incident there, he changed his name from James Albert Layton Jr. to Neal, prosecutors said.