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Former Marine arrested in 1976 killing of woman who disappeared from Costa Mesa restaurant

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Leslie Penrod Harris and Eddie Lee Anderson are seen in photos from 1976, the year she was killed. Anderson was arrested Friday on suspicion of murder.
(Courtesy of Orange County Sheriff’s Department)

A former Marine has been arrested in the death of a woman found strangled near a military base 43 years ago after she disappeared from a Costa Mesa restaurant, officials said Thursday.

Eddie Lee Anderson, 66, is suspected of killing 30-year-old Leslie Penrod Harris in May 1976 and dumping her body near Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, Orange County sheriff’s officials said in a news release. The Marine base has since been decommissioned, and Irvine’s Great Park was built on part of it.

Harris was dining with her husband at a restaurant in Costa Mesa the evening of May 17 and went out alone around 8:30 p.m. She still hadn’t returned by the time the restaurant closed, and her husband reported her missing, authorities said.

At about 4:30 the next morning, military police from the air base found Harris’ body lying on a roadway just outside its perimeter. Authorities later determined she had been strangled, deputies said.

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Detectives approached nearby businesses and taxi companies that served the area, but no leads developed. Officials suspected the killer was connected to the military because Harris’ body was found in an area the general public was unfamiliar with. But the case went cold.

There were attempts in 1997 and 2016 to revive the case following advancements in DNA analysis, but no matches to the evidence collected were found, detectives said.

But Orange County investigators last year began using genealogy to identify suspects in the case, and earlier this year a joint effort with the FBI helped them identify Anderson as a person of interest.

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Eddie Lee Anderson, 66, who is suspected of killing Leslie Penrod Harris in 1976, is seen in a booking photo.
(Courtesy of Orange County Sheriff’s Department)

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Further investigation led authorities to determine Anderson had been enlisted in the Marines and lived at the El Toro base in the early 1970s. At the time Harris was killed, he lived less than a mile from the restaurant she visited the night of her death, officials said.

A week ago, Orange County sheriff’s officials traveled to Louisiana, where Anderson was living, to interview him.

After Anderson volunteered to provide a DNA sample, he was arrested on suspicion of murder Friday at his home in River Ridge, La.

He’s now in the custody of the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Office, but Orange County authorities are working to extradite him to California.

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer applauded the use of genealogy in cold cases.

Genealogical DNA techniques also were used this year to identify James Alan Neal as the suspect in the 1973 killing of 11-year-old Linda Ann O’Keefe in Newport Beach.

“These victims and their families have been waiting for justice for decades, and the addition of genealogical DNA is now helping us to advance our efforts to achieve justice for crime victims,” Spitzer said in a statement.

Investigators asked that anyone with information about the Harris case call Orange County Crime Stoppers at (855) 847-6227.

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Daily Pilot staff contributed to this report.

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