Colorado authorities arrested a man in connection with a 1985 killing after getting his DNA from a water bottle he discarded on a cross-country flight.
Michael Jefferson, 64, was flying to Los Angeles from New Orleans when Colorado detectives surreptitiously grabbed the bottle.
"During the flight, detectives saw [Jefferson] drinking from a plastic water bottle," states an arrest warrant affidavit obtained by PEOPLE. "During the flight [Jefferson] discarded the water bottle by handing it to a female flight attendant to be placed in the trash. Detectives intercepted the disposal and collected the water bottle without [Jefferson] knowing."
Jefferson is suspected in the murder of 51-year-old Roger Dean, who was fatally shot after a masked suspect broke into his Lone Tree home on November 21, 1985.
The suspect forced Dean to tie up and place duct tape over his wife's eyes, and demanded to know how much money was in their savings account.
His wife told police she heard a confrontation between her husband and the intruder downstairs and then two gunshots.
According to the affidavit, Dean's wife heard him telling the suspect he'd give him $30,000. Then she "heard someone scream and heard more gunshots," the affidavit states.
After the shooting, a neighbor saw a black male, about 20 years of age, run to a car and drive off.
Dean was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
At the scene, a detective found a brown ski mask on the living room floor.
Five years after the slaying, Dean's family became a victim of attempted extortion when they got a letter from someone demanding $150,000.
"Read it carefully, follow each instruction to the letter, and don not call the police," the letter said. "…On a cold snowy morning in Nov. of 85 I had your husband Roger murdered. At this point you are probably frighten, and hoping this is some kind of joke. Well you should be frighten be cause this is NO JOKE!! To prove to you who I am, I will recount some of the events that took place that morning …"
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The letter mentioned that Dean's wife had been in the bathtub prior to the attack and stated: "I left my black bag which contained tape, rope, and a knife some of your jewelry also in the struggle I took off my ski mask so Roger would know who killed him and why…I am one of the two person who came into your Lonetree Home with orders to kill Roger if he did not pay his debt."
Law enforcement never found out who wrote the letter, but now "With knowledge gained from our Homicide investigation [Jefferson] cannot be ruled out and may have ties to the letter's origin," the affidavit states.
The case eventually went cold.
In 2003, investigators were able to develop a DNA profile from the mask but there were no hits in the CODIS databank of felons.
In 2020, authorities, with the help of genetic genealogy experts and cold case detectives, "determined there was a high probability the DNA on the mask was [Jefferson's]," according to the affidavit.
Because of this, investigators "decided a DNA sample would be obtained surreptitiously from [Jefferson] and compare it to the known DNA sample from the ski mask," the affidavit states.
Detectives learned that Jefferson had a scheduled flight on Spirit Airlines on Feb. 17, 2021 from New Orleans. Two detectives from Colorado boarded the flight, one of them sitting across from Jefferson.
Once they were able to obtain the water bottle, they compared it with the DNA profile on the mask, which allegedly linked Jefferson to the murder.
"This case has been going on for 36 years," Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said at a press conference on April 9. "It has been opened a number of times. But it wasn't until this newest technology and the ability for us to identify individuals through genetic genealogy that we came to this point."
Jefferson has been charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping. It is unclear if he has entered a plea or retained an attorney.
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