DNA evidence finally helped police catch the suspect believed responsible for the 34-year-old murder of a Minneapolis teenager.
Authorities on Monday charged Darrell Rea, 62, with second-degree murder in the brutal beating of Lorri Mesedahl, a cold case that had haunted police for more than three decades. Rea was booked into Hennepin County jail, where he remains in lieu of $1 million bail.
While he has only a minor criminal history in the state, police have long suspected Rea in a number of unsolved cases, ranging from rape to murder, authorities said. Several of the cases involved women who were picked up on the street and physically and sexually assaulted.
On the morning of April 2, 1983, a railroad crew found Mesedahl's body lying next to the Soo Line Railroad tracks near N. 2nd Street and 30th Avenue. The 17-year-old was strangled and raped, but died of a massive blow to the head, an autopsy concluded.
Her purse was missing and she wasn't wearing shoes or a coat on what had been a cool night, leading police to believe that she may have been killed somewhere else.
Detectives also noticed "drag marks" from where her body had been dumped to a nearby dirt parking lot, where they saw fresh tire tracks. They also found blood splatter on a nearby gondola car, according to a criminal complaint by Sgt. Chris Karakostas, who runs Minneapolis' cold case unit.
Mesedahl had come home from a party the previous night, but when family members went to check on her, they found her bedroom empty. An acquaintance later told police that she showed up at their grandparent's house at 32nd and Bryant avenues, wearing a jacket and asking to be let inside so she could warm up. But the acquaintance's grandmother refused, and Mesedahl left their house sometime after 3 a.m., the complaint said.
It was the last time anyone saw her alive, police said.
Despite its brutality, the crime merited little media attention at the time. The Star and Tribune ran a brief story two days after the slaying, under the headline, "Police identify body of beaten teen-ager."
Vaginal and rectal swabs from the victim were sent to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) for testing. Investigators there confirmed that the samples contained semen, but the case remained unsolved until the advent of DNA technology.
The case was revived in 2013, when cold case investigators retested the blood and determined it was Rea's by checking it against a BCA database.
Police initially arrested Rea, of St. Louis Park, in March 2015.
He denied involvement in the homicide, telling police that he didn't know the victim. It wasn't immediately clear why it took so long to bring charges against him.
Rea was known to local law enforcement, who considered him a suspect or person of interest in numerous sexual assault, murder, missing persons and assault cases, according to the complaint.
In 1993, DNA evidence linked Rea to a rape that occurred five years before, in which a woman working as a prostitute was picked up in a car in north Minneapolis, strangled, stabbed and sexually assaulted before she escaped. Drops of blood that contained Rea's DNA were found on her clothes, authorities said, but by the time those test results came back the statute of limitations on the case had expired.
Rea was acquitted in 1977 of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, online court records show.
Rea, who will represent himself, is due in court Friday.
Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 Twitter:@StribJany