VALLEJO, Calif. - Vallejo police said they solved a murder nearly 50 years old by testing semen left at the scene of a woman who was sexually assaulted and strangled in 1973.
And the case was solved because a young woman submitted her own DNA to GEDmatch and Ancestry. com, hoping to simply learn more about her family.
She never dreamed what she'd find out.
"My DNA uncovered a murderer," Sophia Edwards, 26, an in-home care worker told KTVU on Friday. "I haven't slept. I'm in shock."
This week, 47 years to the day when Naomi Sanders, 57, was discovered dead in her apartment where she was the onsite manager, police announced the name of the man they say killed her: Robert Dale Edwards, a 22-year-old Vallejo man, whose father used to work with Sanders.
His criminal history included assault, theft, DUI, domestic violence, assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder.
Edwards died in December of 1993 of a drug overdose in Napa County.
A motive for the killing was not revealed. Sophia Edwards said her uncle served in the military and was honorably discharged, but was never the same when he returned.
He turned to heroin, she said, and became a different person, estranging himself from most of his relatives. She never met him, but has heard the family stories.
"Our hearts go out to this family and the victim," Sophia Edwards said.
In a statement, the Sanders family said they were pleased to have some closure.
"The Kadinger Family is immensely grateful to the Vallejo Police Department and to everyone who worked this case for the past 46 years,” according to a statement made by Sanders’ nieces, Sharron and Dixie, who did not provide their last names. “As you can imagine, over that 46 years, many family members directly affected by the loss of Naomi have also passed, and, unfortunately, they cannot be afforded the truth as to what happened. Those of us who do remember the stories of Naomi's life and untimely death can now feel closure... May Naomi now rest in peace."
On Feb. 27, 1973, Sanders, who was one of of ten brothers and sisters, was found strangled and sexually assaulted inside of her apartment at 1077 Oakwood, in Vallejo.
Vallejo police said they worked the case and followed leads, all to no avail.
In 2014, the California Department of Justice Laboratory completed forensic testing on the clothes that Sanders was wearing at the time of her murder. There was some semen on her clothes.
Although a DNA profile was developed and entered into the Combined DNA Index System, there were no matches, Lt. Fabio Rodriguez said in a news release.
Vallejo police detectives continued to run that DNA profile against new people uploaded into the database over the years.
In 2016, detectives tested the DNA against the California DNA databank. Again, the results were negative, Rodriguez said.
In 2018, detectives began to research investigative genetic genealogy and partnered with Parabon NanoLabs, Rodriguez said.
In April of 2019, a DNA genealogy analysis was completed and eventually narrowed the search to two investigative leads. Sophia Edwards said that it was her DNA that led the police to her relatives, including her own father, who also died of a drug overdose.
Last year, detectives traveled to Louisiana to collect discarded DNA from one of these male suspect leads and were able to eliminate him as being the killer, Rodriguez said without elaborating.
Sophia Edwards said that person was a relative of hers, too.
The investigation revealed that the second remaining suspect - Edwards - was dead and that his remains had been cremated.
But they also learned that Edwards had a biological son who lived out of state. Detectives were able to contact the son and collect his DNA.
Edwards also had another son from a different wife.
That son, Robert Dean Edwards of Fairfield, told KTVU that police never had never contacted him about any of this. He said he only learned of his half-brother because of this criminal investigation.
Robert Dean Edwards said he virtually had no relationship with his father. His mom left his dad when he was a baby, and when his father died of an overdose, he was just 17.
All this news has been surreal, he said.
"I have never been contacted about this whole ordeal," he told KTVU on Friday. "I'm not sure why as I'm still local and was his first born."