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LVMPD investigates if suspect in two cold cases is responsible for more murders

One suspect, two cold cases. Las Vegas Police Department investigators, with the help of advanced DNA technology, connected Johnny Peterson to two murders that
Updated: Dec. 8, 2021 at 10:42 PM PST
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LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - In the span of a week, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department announced a suspect of two decades-old cold case murders.

Johnny Peterson, who died in 1993, was tied to the 1979 murder of 16-year-old Kim Bryant and the murder of Diana Hanson in 1983. Both victims were also sexually assaulted.

Investigators are now looking into five other unsolved murders between the mid-1970s to mid-1980s. The five other cases are young women in the Las Vegas Valley who were sexually assaulted and murdered.

“We don’t have anything right now that specifically links him to any of those cases,” LVMPD homicide Lt. Ray Spencer said. “We know for a fact we have two victims so we’re going to take a deep dive to rule him in or rule him out as the suspect.”

Bryant’s 1979 murder was solved because of a donation from philanthropist Justin Woo for Metro to send the limited DNA off her clothing to Othram in Texas. The lab’s genealogical testing named Peterson the suspect, and then investigators were able to match him to Hanson’s murder.

“It actually happened in the first case [in Las Vegas, the Stephanie] Isaacson case. It’s more common than you would think,” Othram’s chief business development officer Dr. Kristen Mittelman said.

Othram believes their advanced DNA testing can solve serial crimes in the past and even present day with never before used genetic testing.

“It will become a deterrent for people that are out there thinking about committing crimes, because they’ll realize if there’s any DNA left they’ll be caught,” Mittelman said. “They don’t need to be in any law enforcement database or a known perpetrator.”

Peterson was arrested in a sexual assault one year after Bryant’s murder, but was never convicted. Forty years ago, DNA wasn’t collected in criminal cases, like it is today in every sexual assault case.

“With the advancements of technology, it’s causing us to go back and look at a lot of cases that were unsolvable. For us to bring closure to the family and community is just very rewarding,” Spencer said. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to solve a lot more of these cases in the future.”

The homicide department has a team of five cold case investigators, according to Spencer. He said there are still hundreds of unsolved cold cases.