DNA from rope helps put 1998 murder case to rest

Midwest

Officials in Utah believe the husband of Lina Reyes Geddes, from Ohio, is responsible for her 1998 murder, the Utah Department of Public Safety announced this week. (Utah Department of Public Safety)

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – It took 20 years to identify Lina Reyes Geddes. It took another four to identify a suspect in her murder.

At a joint Zoom press conference on Wednesday with police in Youngstown, Ohio, representatives with the Utah Department of Public Safety said they believe the husband of the missing Ohio woman who was found shot to death in 1998 was her killer.

Edward Geddes, who owned a business in Youngstown, died by suicide in 2001 in Nevada. Investigators said they were able to match DNA from Edward Geddes, Lina’s husband, on the rope that was used to bind her.

Lina Reyes Geddes was not identified until November 2018, after parallel investigations by UDPS Agent Brian Davis and Youngstown Police Detective Sgt. David Sweeney.

Davis was trying to find the identity of the woman who was found bound and murdered on April 20, 1998, on Utah Highway 276. The body had also been wrapped in duct tape, placed in a sleeping bag and bound in carpet, according to the UDPS.

Sweeney was trying to close out a missing person case into Lina Reyes Geddes’ disappearance in 1998, when her family in Mexico reported her missing.

Her husband, however, never reported her missing. It was her family who notified police of her disappearance after she was supposed to take a trip to Laredo, Texas, to visit, but never made it.

In an Oct. 1998 interview with now-retired Youngstown Police Detective Sgt. Jose Morales, Sr., Edward Geddes, dressed in a blue V-neck sweater and white shirt, sipped from a cup of coffee as he told Morales he dropped his wife off at the Pittsburgh airport on April 8, 1998. He kissed her just before she walked into the airport, Edward Geddes said.

“That was the last time I saw her,” he claimed.

The interview was provided by city police to Utah authorities and is available on the UDPS home page.

Although Lina Reyes Geddes was from Austintown, city police took over the case because of Morales, who is fluent in Spanish, and it was easier for him to talk to her relatives. She also owned a business in Youngstown.

Davis said once they were able to identify Lina Reyes Geddes, they then had to figure out who killed her. The task was daunting, he said. Investigators with the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, where her body was found, worked the case for two years but had no luck in closing it out.

In 2008, the case was reopened again, this time by state authorities.

At first, it was thought she may have been a victim of serial killer Scott Lee Kimball of Boulder, Colorado. Kimball is responsible for at least four murders in rural Colorado and Utah between 2003-2004, and is thought to have killed more than 20 additional people. He is currently serving a 70-year prison sentence for the four murders he was convicted of.

However, Davis said Kimball was ruled out as a suspect, but has not said why. Davis himself was handed the case in 2016.

Both Davis and Sweeney posted public notices looking for help at about the same time, and a person Sweeney described as an “internet sleuth” noticed the similarities in both cases and contacted authorities in Utah and Youngstown, which helped to put investigators on the right track.

“There were a lot of moving parts in this case,” Sweeney said.

After Lina Reyes Geddes’ body was identified, it was a major breakthrough, Davis said. It was needed because previous investigations had taken advantage of all kinds of techniques — investigators even consulted a knot expert to examine the rope she was bound in — but nothing ever panned out.

“This [identification] opened up new doors for us,” Davis said. “That was a huge break in our case.”

Once she was identified, Davis said his next task was finding out who killed her.

Davis said investigators interviewed several people in Youngstown about the victim and her husband, and he also decided to retest the evidence in the case. One piece of evidence he was particularly interested in was the rope she was bound in.

A cold case analyst with UDPS got Davis in touch with a crime scene specialist in Utah who had access to special tools to test evidence. One of those tools was an M-Vac, which Davis described as a wet-dry-type device that is used on especially tough surfaces, like rope, to extract DNA.

Davis explained that the M-Vac shoots a solution onto the surface of an item, which is then extracted by the vacuum. Everything the device extracts goes into a special filter, where any DNA is separated.

The M-Vac found 117 enneagrams of DNA on the rope, Davis said — more than enough to be tested. Davis said a DNA profile can be found in just one enneagram of DNA.

When the DNA was tested, there were two different DNA profiles. Next, investigators asked for DNA samples from the family of Edward Geddes.

Two family members gave a sample willingly, but Sweeney said he had to get a search warrant to get a sample from Edward Geddes’ son.

The DNA samples came back with a familial match, but there was still the problem of the other DNA profile found on the rope. They entered that profile into a national database and it came back to a 2011 murder in Montana. When investigators checked out that case, they discovered the same knot expert used in the Lina Reyes Geddes case also handled a rope that was used in the Montana case.

The expert submitted his own DNA, which matched the second sample taken from the rope. Only one profile remained, according to investigators: that Edward Geddes.

“It goes to show the science of where we’re at with DNA,” Davis said.

Davis said the case is a very emotional one for him because of the connection he made with both Lina Reyes Geddes and her family, who took her body home in 2019 to bury her.

“These cases are very difficult. They’re tough. They can hit a lot more dead ends than successes,” Davis said. “It’s very, very fulfilling to be a part of that [solved case] and the people coming together.”

Davis said he had no idea why Edward Geddes would be in Utah with his wife. He said it appeared when she was found that she had not been dead very long. He said if Edward Geddes was still alive, he would file murder charges against him.

Sweeney said the case speaks of the importance of cold cases and missing person cases. Although he is now a patrol supervisor and no longer in the detective bureau, he still heads up the department’s missing person cases. He said there are 16 open missing person cases the department is working on currently, and he hopes the success of the Geddes case will help spur people who have information to come forward.

“Even if there’s a small tidbit of information, it can solve the case,” Sweeney said.

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