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Another cold case solved by a familial DNA match

Arrest in 1994 cold case killing of woman found slain in her Springfield home

September 11th, 2023

A suspect has been arrested in the murder of a Virginia woman dating back almost three decades, detectives in Northern Virginia announced Monday.

The victim, Robin Lawrence, 37, was found stabbed to death in her home on Reseca Lane in Springfield on Nov. 20, 1994, while her 2-year-old daughter was inside.

Lawrence's husband was away at the time. After he wasn't able to contact his wife, he asked a family friend to check in on her. The friend found Lawrence's body, as well as the couple's toddler. Left alone for days, the little girl was dehydrated but not otherwise physically harmed.

Detectives couldn't solve the case at the time, but were able to develop a DNA profile of Lawrence's killer. However, there was no DNA match in any available databases.

But on Monday, Fairfax County police announced that they recently found a familial DNA match to a suspect, whom they identified as Stephen Smerk, now 51.

The breakthrough comes several years after police began working with Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA company based in Northern Virginia. Parabon used genealogical DNA family trees to develop a possible suspect. They also created a digital composite of the suspect in Lawrence's killing, which police compared to photos of Smerk from 1988 and 1998.

Smerk has been living in Niskayuna, New York, near Schenectady. Fairfax County detectives traveled there and met with Smerk, who gave a DNA sample and confessed to the crime, police said.

He was arrested by local authorities and is awaiting extradition to Fairfax County.

"Our cold case detectives exhibit unparalleled dedication when it comes to closing a case with many unknowns," said Police Chief Kevin Davis. "This case is but one example of how our department's police work goes above and beyond, and it exemplifies our commitment to delivering justice regardless of the timeline."

Police said Smerk was active-duty military at the time of the killing and was working in the area where Lawrence was killed. However, they said there was no clear motive established yet. There was no known connection between the two before the crime.

Lawrence's now-grown daughter and other family were at the police news conference Monday but did not take questions.

Victim specialists from the police department have been assigned to help the family receive appropriate resources and help, police said.

It is unclear whether Smerk has a lawyer.

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