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How DNA Technology Cracked A Rape And Murder Cold Case 28 Years On

On Labour Day 1990, Betty Jones, 65, answered a knock at the door of her friend Kathryn Crigler's house in Starkville Mississipi, unknowingly letting her killer inside.

Jones fought her attacker trying to save her friend and herself before she was overpowered and killed.

"She was a fighter. And I know that when this guy started attacking her, Betty fought back like a wild cat," Jones' sister, Anne McWhorter told 48 Hours.

The killer then raped and strangled 81-year-old Crigler in her room and left her for dead.

Kathryn Crigler (Image CBS News/48 Hours)

Amazingly, Crigler, an amputee who couldn't reach her wheelchair managed to crawl to a phone in the kitchen to call for help.

"It makes me proud of her. Because she could've totally just given up right then. Most people would … That's pretty amazing," said Crigler's granddaughter, Juky Crigler Holt.

Sadly she succumbed to her injuries and died two months later.

That led to a 28-year manhunt searching for her killer.

"The monster came to the door...as best we can tell he entered into a physical confrontation with her and she tried to defend herself," retired Starkville Police Chief David Lindley told 48 Hours.

The investigation was not only taken up by police, but also Betty's step-grandson, Jason B. Jones.

Jason B. Jones (Image CBS/48 Hours)

Through his podcast, 'Knock Knock' Jason dug through the deaths of the two women, looking for any clues as to what had happened to them.

A neighbour who had been partying next to the house was under suspicion due to a number of reasons, not least because he matched the description given to police by Kathryn Crigler.

He had left the party for a period of time and smoked the same brand of cigarettes as those left behind by the killer.

DNA evidence would go on to rule him out, but forensic science played a crucial role in the alleged killer's eventual capture.

Former Chief Lindley eventually retired leaving the case with Sargent Bill Lott, who was determined to use modern techniques to heat up this cold case. He described the crime scene as 'bad as anything Jack the Ripper ever did'.

Image CBS/48 Hours.

The pictures put together by the DNA phenotyping process.

"Even though I'm a dinosaur, I'm constantly getting on the Internet and looking at science," said Lott.

The first of two forensic approaches to breaking the case was the practice of DNA phenotyping, which in essence allows scientists to create a description of a person based on their DNA.

This, in turn, allowed a rough picture of the attacker to be sent to Sargent Lott both from the time of the attack and what he would look like now.

The second technique is gene genealogy, which uses a public database where people have volunteered their DNA to find family members, or in this case, find possible relatives of the killer.

It was this that caused the breakthrough over 25 years in the making.

"I was asleep here at home and about  4am I received a text from Sergeant Lott and he said, "We got him!" … It wasn't very eloquent, but I believe my exact quote was "you're sh---ing me!" said former Chief Lindley.

Michael Wayne DeVaughn (Image CBS/48 Hours)

The man was 51-year-old Michael Wayne DeVaughn.

To make sure of the match, Lott sent DNA pulled from the cigarettes from the crime scene to be compared to DeVaughn's, they were a match.

The reason DeVaughn's DNA was not matched is he had no prior criminal history until well after the crime had occurred.

DeVaughn has been charged with the murder of Betty Jones and the rape and sexual battery of Kathryn Crigler.

"I thought I would feel either happy or mad, but the feelings are a lot more complicated than that … I feel a sadness towards him that he was a guy that made a series of terrible choices that resulted in taking something away from us that was irreplaceable," said Jason Jones, Betty's step-grandson

As of now, there has been no indictment and DeVaughn has not entered a plea to the court.

With CBS: 48 Hours

Feature Image: CBS

Contact the author: mgay@networkten.com.au