Local News

DNA could be key in solving 2-year-old murder mystery

Posted June 17, 2009 11:23 a.m. EDT
Updated June 17, 2009 7:00 p.m. EDT

— Police investigators confirmed Wednesday that they have DNA evidence in the unsolved slaying of Jenna Nielsen, a pregnant newspaper carrier who was stabbed to death outside a Raleigh convenience store two years ago.

Nielsen, 22, was making a delivery at the AmeriKing Food Mart on Lake Wheeler Road in the early hours of June 14, 2007, when she was stabbed in the neck.

Eight months' pregnant, she was working the route to supplement her family's income as she and her husband prepared for the birth of their third son, Ethen.

Police have characterized the case as being "very solvable" but never disclosed that they had DNA evidence. Nielsen's husband, Tim Nielsen, revealed that information in a recent interview with CNN.

"This case has never been a cold case," said Lt. Karen Riggsbee, with the Raleigh Police Department's Major Crimes Division, "We work on it daily."

Riggsbee would not say where the evidence was collected or when it was discovered but said that it is constantly being run through DNA databases across the country.

"Obviously, any time you have DNA, it pinpoints," she said. "It's able to focus in on one person. So, we're very happy to have some DNA in this case, and we just need a suspect to go with that."

Kevin Blaine, Nielsen's father, said Wednesday that with the disclosure, he has new hope that there will be a break in the case.

"Right now, in this day and age, DNA is a vital key to putting somebody behind bars. I mean, it gives you an absolute perfect match," Blaine said. "I'm just waiting for the phone call from police, saying they have him in custody."

"I think that was the break they were looking for," said Tim Nielsen, from his home in Layton, Utah, where he moved last year with his two sons.

Police have remained quiet about Nielsen's death and have not offered a motive for it, but they have said they it was a random act.

The case received widespread attention in the days and weeks following Nielsen's slaying. CNN, Fox News and America’s Most Wanted featured the case on their programs.

Nielsen's employer, USA Today, also published several full-page advertisements about the case, and a local advertising company posted a billboard near downtown Raleigh in an effort to generate leads.

Her family has also set up a Web site, justice4jenna.org, to keep the case alive and is offering a $15,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

Investigators have interviewed hundreds of people and received thousands of tips, but continue to appeal to the public for any information they might have, regardless of how small it might be.

Police have released a description of a person wanted for questioning in the case – a short, slightly built man in his late teens or early 20s with black hair that was pulled back into a long ponytail. He was wearing a dark-colored sleeveless shirt and baggy blue jeans shorts.

Early in the investigation, police released a composite photo of the person, but have since backed away from the image, concerned it has narrowed the scope of information they've received and might have been misleading. His ethnicity is not known, and detectives have urged people to avoid speculation based upon the physical description.

The police department has dedicated 24-hour hotline (919-227-6220) to the case. Anyone with information can also call Crime Stoppers at 919-834-4357.

"The hope (that someone will be arrested) is still here. I know police are doing the best they can with the information they have," Tim Nielsen said Wednesday. "I still have faith in them, but it's still frustrating that no one's come forward."