'Coldest' case heats up
Pizza-parlor killing evidence from 1977 matches the DNA of a felon who stands charged
BY MARK BOWES
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Friday, February 24, 2006
Henry William Long lost his life while fighting an armed robber more than 29 years ago.But before he died, Long -- a black-belt in karate -- managed to spill some of his killer's blood as he struggled with him inside the Shakey's Pizza Parlor at 6006 W. Broad St. on Jan. 16, 1977.
Remarkably, after sitting in a police property room for decades, that blood evidence recently led to a man police believe is Long's killer.
The suspect, 61-year-old Benjamin Richard Johnson, was arraigned on a first-degree murder charge yesterday in Henrico County Circuit Court. He was brought here from the Sussex II state correctional facility in Waverly, where he was serving the final months of a two-year prison sentence. He was due to be released in May.
The key to solving the case was Johnson's blood, which was preserved by investigators and submitted in 1996 to the Virginia Department of Forensic Science's DNA databank, which contains the DNA profiles of tens of thousands of convicted felons.Investigators didn't know whose blood they had until after Johnson was arrested on a felony gun charge in Richmond in September 2004. He was required under state law to submit a DNA sample after his conviction in December of that year.
Six months later, state lab technicians matched it with Johnson's DNA."To our recollection, this is our oldest, coldest hit," said Dr. Paul Ferrara, director of the Division of Forensic Science. "We've gotten over 3,200 of these hits since we started this databank back in 1989."
Authorities say the case illustrates the power of DNA evidence and perseverance of investigators, who never gave up on the case. After 20 years of dead ends, Henrico cold-case detective Jim Dorton decided to submit the blood evidence to the DNA databank before he retired."
We don't give up, cases are never cold and it shows the dedication of the men and women that are employed in the police department," said Henrico Capt. Jan Stem.Henry William Long was 25 when he was killed. He lived just 200 yards from the restaurant, which is no longer there.
According to news accounts at the time, the robbery attempt happened after the Shakey's had closed for the night. Police believe someone accosted Long about 2:30 a.m., either at the door of his car or at his apartment.
Long, an assistant manager, was forced back into the pizza parlor and into a rear office, where he was told to take off his clothes.The month before -- two days before Christmas -- Long had been accosted by someone, but had run back inside the closed restaurant. Five months before that, he had been robbed there after someone cut the phone lines.
This time, Long scuffled with the would-be robber, whose pistol went off. Perhaps it was then when the robber was wounded, police speculated at the time.But the pair fought their way to the front of the restaurant.
Someone picked up an 18-inch pizza knife.
Long's naked body was found just inside the front door by a janitor. The knife was found nearby. Three bullets were found in that area of the restaurant.
Although robbery was the apparent motive, no money was reported missing. Long's wallet was found intact and as much as $1,000 was still in the safe, according to the newspaper accounts. The telephone lines had been cut.
Police speculated then that Long's killer may also have been responsible for the other suspicious incidents at the Shakey's."I think Henry Long decided that he had been robbed one too many times, and was going to fight back," said Henrico Investigator Doug Sullivan, who picked up the case with his partner, Investigator Robert Hewlett, after the DNA hit.
Police officials yesterday said the DNA match would not have been possible without the work of two earlier detectives -- Buddy Albert and Garland Priddy -- who collected the blood evidence in 1977 and carefully preserved it for future analysis."Had they not collected the evidence the way they collected it, and preserved it, we wouldn't be here today," Sullivan said.
When Sullivan and Hewlett took over the case in late 2005, the investigators tracked down Long's former co-workers to help reconstruct the night he was killed."
This is a really great case for us because all of our witnesses are still alive, and they remember the incident like it happened yesterday," Sullivan said.
The main concern, Sullivan added, was the integrity of the evidence."The chain of custody is very important in this case," he said.
"Up until 1997, the evidence had basically never moved anywhere. It had just stayed in our property evidence room. This was probably our oldest case that we still have any type of good evidence on."
After getting the initial DNA hit, Sullivan and Hewlett resubmitted other pieces of evidence for testing, "to verify that indeed this was going to be the individual," Sullivan said.When the lab makes a match, "that's not the end of it," said Ferrara, the forensic science director."
In a case like this, where the crime scene evidence has already been examined and returned some nine years ago, we ask them to resubmit it -- and then we double check it," Ferrara said. "Then we'll do a direct comparison to a new sample from [the suspect]. And that eliminates any chance of mix-up in sampling."
Henrico investigators yesterday notified Long's parents of the arrest. The out-of-state couple, both 78, were overwhelmed by the news, a police spokesman said, and didn't want to immediately speak about the arrest.
Federal Bureau of Investigation - CODIS News Article - 'Coldest' case heats up