Witnesses asked to come forward in cold case murder, suspect arrested in El Paso County

 Vintage photo of suspect James Neal.  Photo from Orange County DA
Vintage photo of suspect James Neal. Photo from Orange County DA (KKTV)
Published: Feb. 19, 2019 at 3:31 PM MST
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For 45 years, the Newport Beach, California police department never stopped trying to solve the brutal murder of an 11-year-old girl.

On Thursday the Orange County District Attorney's Office released a vintage photo of the suspect. The exact date of this photo is unknown, however it was likely taken during the time period of the late 1970’s to the early 1980’s. Hoping any potential witnesses to the crime would come forward with any information in the decades-old case.

"Just to put this in some perspective, 45 years ago when she was killed was when the Watergate hearings began in our nation's capital," said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. "And yet for 45 years, the Newport Beach Police Department never gave up."

On Feb. 19, 2019, justice finally came for Linda O'Keefe.

California law enforcement announced Wednesday that 72-year-old James Neal was arrested in Colorado Springs for allegedly abducting and killing Linda all those years ago.

Neal had moved to Colorado in the decades since Linda's death and, despite DNA evidence taken from Linda's body, had gone under the radar until DNA was submitted to an unnamed ancestry website. Officials declined to commit on if the DNA was submitted by Neal or by a family member of his.

"As a result of that genealogical submission, they got an indication that James Alan Neal may be the suspect. As a result of surveillance and other traditional detective techniques, they were able to get additional DNA which resulted in the corroboration of the DNA from the victim’s body, to the DNA sample that the suspect left during a particular location during surveillance activities," Spitzer said in a news conference Wednesday.

11 News learned on Thursday the company that helped with the investigation is FamilyTreeDNA.

FamilyTreeDNA sent the following statement to 11 News:

"FamilyTreeDNA is pleased to know there was an arrest in this investigation and there is progress in what was, until now, a 45-year-old cold case. We hope this arrest will bring the family one step closer to having closure."

Linda was walking home from summer school on July 6, 1973 when she was taken. Her body was dumped in a ditch and found the next day. She had been strangled to death.

"From that day, the search for Linda Ann O'Keefe became the search for Linda Ann O'Keefe's killer," said Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis.

"Generations of investigators worked on this case," he went on. "We never gave up."

A development in the case came years later when DNA left behind from the killer was used to create images of a suspect. Those images were released to the public in July of 2018.

If you have any information on this case you're asked to call 949-644-3669.

Neal was arrested Tuesday. Thursday, he appeared in an El Paso County courtroom for the first time. His visibly emotional family was in attendance. Neal was officially assigned an attorney and told a filing for extradition would occur next week.

The arrest was a bittersweet moment for Linda's sister, who told 11 News their parents died without ever knowing who their daughter's killer was.

The full news conference can be viewed below:

LIVE: Authorities in Orange County are giving an update on a more than 45-year-old cold case following a recent arrest in Colorado. Read more:

Posted by KKTV 11 News on Wednesday, February 20, 2019