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Man is arrested in 1975 strangulation of Mar Vista woman, 80

DNA evidence collected from the suspect after his arrest during a traffic stop matches evidence collected after the victim was raped and killed in her home, police say.

September 12, 2009|Richard Winton and Corina Knoll

For 34 years, the rape and murder of 80-year-old Alice Lewis remained a mystery. There wasn't even a suspect.

But five months ago, a routine traffic stop in Los Angeles yielded DNA evidence that police said opened the door for solving the cold case and arresting the alleged killer.

This week, Dennis Vasquez, 50, was arrested in the 1975 strangulation of the woman at her Meier Street home in Mar Vista.

Because he would have been only 16 at the time of the crime, Vasquez appeared Friday in Juvenile Court in Inglewood. And for that reason, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office declined to name the murder suspect, though police did.

Vasquez did not enter a plea and is scheduled to return to court Sept. 28, when a judge could determine if he is fit to be tried as a juvenile.

At the time of Lewis' killing, no suspects were identified but evidence in the case was stored by the Los Angeles Police Department. In April, the man now in custody was pulled over for a minor traffic stop and arrested on suspicion of driving with knowledge that his license had been suspended or revoked, said Jane Robison, a district attorney's spokeswoman. At that time, his criminal history permitted authorities to take a swab of his DNA. He was released, but his DNA eventually was linked to a sample from the 1975 crime that had been placed in the state's DNA database system about seven years ago, Robison said.

Dets. Tim Marcia and Greg Kading of the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division cold case unit investigated the case and arrested Vasquez about 5 p.m. Tuesday at his home in the 3900 block of South Grand Avenue in Historic South-Central Los Angeles. Vasquez has been charged with murder with the special allegation that the killing was committed during a rape and burglary. He is being held without bail.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

corina.knoll@latimes.com

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