The community learned this week that a gruesome Fairfield homicide that dates back more than 30 years was closed last month after DNA evidence linked a former childhood friend of the victim’s son to the crime.
Robert Hathaway, 48, of Fairfield, will not stand trial.
Hathaway killed himself Feb. 15, four days after police took a court-ordered DNA sample. Police learned days after Hathaway’s suicide that the sample was a positive match to DNA obtained from the crime scene.
The victim in the case, Priscilla Lee Strole, 40, was found by her son the night of Aug. 31, 1983, severely beaten, on the floor of the home they shared at 930 Buchanan St. She was pronounced dead at the emergency room.
Hathaway was 17 at the time, and a friend of Stole’s 15-year-old son.
Police worked several leads, but the case went cold.
Fairfield police cold-case Detectives Mel Ferro and Dave Hoen took a fresh look at the case in 2012. They developed a theory that information about the killer may not have been available in various criminal databases at the time Strole was killed, but may be there now.
They were right.
Fingerprints from the crime scene were matched to Hathaway, who was arrested in a burglary case more than three years after Strole’s death. That led to a warrant for Hathaway’s DNA.
This is the second cold-case homicide closed in recent years by Fairfield detectives.
Kathryn Vitagliano was found stabbed to death in her home the night of Nov. 26, 2003. Detectives in 2010 arrested a former boyfriend of one of Vitagliano’s adult daughters and he was tried twice. The first jury deadlocked in 2012 in favor of acquittal. A second jury acquitted the man in 2013.
Police subsequently closed the case.
Tuesday’s announcement in the Strole case shows that cold cases are worth the effort.
We’re fortunate that the Fairfield Police Department makes it a priority to review cold cases periodically. There’s no statute of limitations where murder is concerned, and every attempt possible should be made to bring killers to justice.
Hathaway in a suicide note said he was taking the coward’s way out. Still, justice has been served.
Fairfield’s remaining cold cases include:
Let’s hope detectives are successful closing the books on these as well.