New York — It was a crime that mystified police for decades and left a neighborhood in fear -- a woman who lived alone found raped, stabbed and beaten in her suburban New Jersey home. Now, police say they have arrested a 51-year-old man who was the victim's teenage neighbor at the time of the killing.
Because the man was a juvenile when the crime was committed, he may not legally be named, the Star-Ledger reported Wednesday. But the paper quoted unidentified law enforcement sources as saying the suspect is a truck driver who had lived near Lena Triano and who had been released from prison in 1999 after serving nearly 20 years for kidnapping and robbery.
According to police, the man is suspected of entering Triano's Westfield, N.J., home in 1976, perhaps through the back door, which faced his yard and which Triano tended to leave unlocked. The 57-year-old woman, who worked as a legal secretary, was found slain on March 15, 1976.
Triano had no known enemies, there was no clear motive, and the DNA analysis and other advances that help solve modern crimes did not yet exist. "There were no suspects, no clues, nothing left behind — it was a very difficult case," Ray Lynch, a retired detective who ran the Union County Prosecutor’s Office homicide squad at the time, told the Star-Ledger. "It’s frustrating, especially when you see the condition of this woman and what was done to her. It didn’t seem to make much sense why someone would hurt this woman."
The case eventually went cold, and remained that way until a prosecutor looking into unsolved cases came across the file and reopened it. Evidence from the scene, including Triano's clothing, had been preserved; testing of that evidence pointed authorities to the suspect.
He was arrested at work Monday morning and, according to police Sgt. Harvey Barnwell, "did not seem surprised."
Union County prosecutor Theodore Romanow said he was petitioning for permission to publicly identify the man arrested in the slaying.
"The reason juvenile information is not released is to protect the juvenile. This person is 51 years old, therefore, I think the public's right to know is more important than protecting a 51-year-old accused murderer," said Romanow, who noted that the case could become the oldest ever solved in the county.
It wouldn't be the oldest cold case ever to be solved, though. Last year, police in Seattle used DNA evidence to link a 73-year-old sex offender to a slaying that had taken place 43 years earlier. Samuel Evans pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter.
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