Man charged in 1982 murder of Laurel woman - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Man charged in 1982 murder of Laurel woman

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John Ernest Walsh (Prince George's County Police Department) John Ernest Walsh (Prince George's County Police Department)
Stefanie Sue Watson (Prince George's County Police Department) Stefanie Sue Watson (Prince George's County Police Department)

31 years after Stefanie Sue Watson's dismembered remains were found in Laurel, Prince George's County police say they have closed the case with an arrest.

Investigators say DNA evidence found inside her abandoned car was recently tested and linked to a 69-year-old Maryland man now serving time for rape.

Investigators who have worked the case say the name of John Ernest Walsh never came up. He was never a suspect and investigators believe the victim and the accused were strangers.

But according to cold case detectives, Walsh's DNA was found inside the victim’s car found abandoned in a parking lot four days after she disappeared.

On July 22, 1982, 27-year-old Stefanie Watson got into her 1981 Chevy Chevette and headed for Laurel-Beltsville Hospital where she worked as a receptionist.

But Watson never arrived and the next day, a cousin filed a missing persons report.

"Her last sighting was when she went to a bank in Laurel. People from work saw her there," said Cold Case Detective Sergeant Richard Fulginiti.

A little over a month after Watson’s blood-soaked car was found in a Laurel parking lot, a witness says he saw a man pull into the end of Larchdale Road where he got out wearing a yellow dish glove on one of his hands. As the witness watched, the man discarded something in the woods next to a swimming pool.

Thinking it was all too suspicious, the witness called police who found the dismembered remains of the missing woman.

But more than 30 years would go by before cold case detectives could pin the crime on Walsh.

"Evidence was initially sent to the FBI laboratory,” said Sergeant Fulginiti. “At that time, the only tests that were done and could be done at that time were blood matching, and we knew at that time there were several different blood types. As DNA testing has progressed through the years, they have gotten more sensitive and we were able to conduct a positive test in this year of 2013.”

But the back story on Walsh is also unusual. Police say he was sentenced to serve more than 70 years in prison for a 1969 rape, but only served a small fraction of it.

"When he was originally convicted, he went to Patuxent Institution in Jessup,” said Fulginiti, “At that time, Patuxent Institution did not fall under the category of the Department of Corrections. After eight years of incarceration on a 72-year sentence, he was given work release. Two years after that in 1980, he was paroled.”

Fulginiti says Walsh violated his parole and went back to prison in 1989 where he has been ever since.

Prince George's County police say Walsh's DNA was collected by the state in 2000 and entered into the state's DNA databank.

The motive for the crime has never been established.

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