Familial DNA test, retired detective's tenacity, solve 1992 murder case

San Diego police homicide Lt. Mike Holden said the evidence that
connected Falls was a "familial DNA" test — the first of its kind run by
a San Diego County law agency.

April 14, 2017

A reserve San Diego police detective, determined to make a difference while fighting cancer, took on a cold case and through DNA helped solve the horrific murder of a 84-year-old woman 25 years ago.

The killer, Jeffrey Falls, died in a 2006 freeway motorcycle crash in El Cajon at the age of 42.

Authorities announced at a news conference Friday that Falls, a teenager at the time, raped and stabbed Angela Kleinsorge to death in her Gaines Street home in the Morena neighborhood on Feb. 29, 1992. He had been the victim's neighbor.

San Diego police homicide Lt. Mike Holden said the evidence that connected Falls was a "familial DNA" test — the first of its kind run by a San Diego County law agency.

Routine DNA tests had failed to find a match because Falls, who was about 17 at the time of the murder, did not have DNA in any database system. But a partial match was made that indicated a family member, and that turned out to be one of Falls' brothers, a deceased convict.

The connection came about because retired San Diego police Detective Holly Erwin didn't give up on the case, or on herself.

She had retired in 2012 with a severe form of breast cancer. The diagnosis was devastating, Erwin said, but "I didn't want to lay down and die. You can still make a difference." She returned to work as a reserve officer.

Erwin tackled the Kleinsorge case with Detective Lori Adams. In August, they got the Department of Justice to accept the DNA sample from the case for familial DNA testing.

The victim's daughter, Hedy Kleinsorge, attended the news conference with her brother Ronald. She said as time passed with no arrest, she wondered if the killer thought he'd gotten away with it, or even gave it any thought.

News that the case had been solved, she said, was bittersweet.

"We finally had a suspect that was identified. But to learn it was a neighbor was horrifying to us," she said. She said she remembered the brothers, younger than herself, from the neighborhood.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said the cutting-edge DNA tests are run only in especially heinous cases where all other leads have dried up. California was the first state to adopt the technology in 2008, and has run 172 such tests since then.

A partial DNA match in the Kleinsorge case belonged to a convicted offender who had died, with high likelihood that he was a brother to the killer.

Investigators found out he had two brothers, one still living and one, Jeffrey Falls, who had died in the 2006 motorcycle crash. The county Medical Examiner's Office still had tissue from Falls' autopsy, and a DNA test on that tissue formed the final link to the murder scene.

San Diego police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said the case, which sat idle for more than two decades, "would still be unsolved if it weren't for the tenacious and persistent efforts of retired Detective Holly Erwin and criminalist Adam Dutra."

Lt. Holden said Jeffrey Falls was contacted during a witness check during the original investigation, and he told investigators he was not home during the time of the murder.

Investigators were unable to corroborate his statement, Holden said, but had no reason at that time to consider him a suspect.

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