DNA on discarded Vanilla Coke can leads to arrest in 40-year-old Colorado cold case murder

CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. — DNA evidence found at the scene of a grisly 1981 murder in Colorado has been tied to a Nebraska man after authorities used genetic genealogy and a discarded Vanilla Coke can to track down the victim’s alleged killer.

David Dwayne Anderson, 62, of Cozad, Nebraska, faces two counts of first-degree murder in the Aug. 4, 1981, killing of Sylvia Mae Quayle, 34, inside her Cherry Hills Village home. Cherry Hills Village is a suburb about seven miles south of downtown Denver.

One charge alleges that Quayle was killed after deliberation; the other accuses Anderson of killing her in the commission of another felony.

Anderson was arrested Feb. 10 in Nebraska, according to Michelle Tovrea, chief of the Cherry Hills Village Police Department. Tovrea, cold case investigators and Quayle’s younger sister and brother-in-law gathered Thursday for a news conference announcing the long-awaited arrest.

“We can only try to understand the deep pain and sense of loss you have experienced over the years,” Tovrea told the family. “I am pleased there is a path moving forward to seek justice in her death.”

Anderson, who was booked last month into the Dawson County, Nebraska, jail, has waived extradition and is awaiting transfer to Arapahoe County, Colorado.

Tovrea attempted last week to give those at the news conference a sense of who Sylvia Quayle was, as photos of the slain woman played on a screen behind her.

“Sylvia’s sister and family had the quote, ‘Beauty seen is never lost’ etched onto her grave marker. (It’s) a very fitting reminder of the beautiful person she was,” the chief said.

The Englewood High School graduate was “ambitious, vibrant, friendly, and lit up the room when she walked in.” A history buff, she enjoyed researching the work of her architect uncle, Wesley Quayle.

Sylvia Quayle worked as a secretary at an architectural firm. An excellent cook, she had also opened her own business specializing in wedding cakes.

“She had a lot of friends that she would have given her last dollar to if they had needed it,” the chief said.

She was an avid artist, creating pottery that her sister keeps throughout her home three decades later.

“She loved her little sister very much,” Tovrea said.

Quayle was also extremely close to her parents, who lived about 150 feet away from their daughter’s home.

“Sylvia had a wonderful, loving relationship with her parents and had coffee with them every morning,” the chief said. “They missed her deeply.”

William and Mary Quayle did not live to see their daughter’s alleged killer charged. William Quayle died in 1999 and his wife followed 10 years later.

A horrific attack

Arapahoe County court records detail the brutal crime and lay out the case against Anderson. In a probable cause affidavit, Cherry Hills Village Detective Lenny Abeyta wrote that officers went to Quayle’s home just before 8 a.m. Aug. 4, 1981, after her father found her lifeless body and called 911.

Sylvia Quayle had spoken to her sister on the phone around 11 p.m. Aug. 3, so investigators knew she had been killed between the time she hung up the phone that night and when her father got to her house nine hours later.

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William Quayle told the officers he’d arrived to find his daughter lying naked on her back on the living room floor. Her arms were up over her head, still entangled in her long-sleeve shirt, and her legs were spread apart.

When police arrived, the distraught man had taken a bloody white towel the assailant had thrown over his daughter’s face and used it to cover her exposed pelvic area.

“The subsequent investigation into (Sylvia) Quayle’s death revealed that she had been shot with one .22-caliber bullet in the top of her head, stabbed three times in her upper back on both the left and right sides, had visual evidence of having been strangled, and was likely sexually assaulted,” Abeyta wrote.

Read the probable cause affidavit below, courtesy of the Law & Crime Channel.

An autopsy determined that Quayle died of blood loss from the stab wounds, which penetrated her heart and both lungs. The bullet wound was a secondary cause of death.

A bloody kitchen knife was found near Quayle’s body, and her underwear was found a few feet from the weapon, according to the affidavit.

An examination of the victim’s body showed that her bloodstained hands had several damaged and broken fingernails, indicating she had fought for her life. She had red marks consistent with the shape of fingers on her neck and throat.

Blood was found in the living room, near the front door and on a pillow in Quayle’s bedroom, the affidavit states. The telephone line in the living room had been cut.

Watch Thursday’s news conference below.

The exterior phone line that ran to the house had also been pulled down and left lying across the hood of Quayle’s brown 1974 Corvette.

“It appeared that the line was pulled down by using a garden hose that was thrown over the line and yanked down,” Abeyta wrote. “The hose had black marks on it that were consistent with it being used to pull the line down.”

Detectives found evidence that Quayle’s assailant had tried multiple windows in the home in order to gain access. A small hole in the screen of a bedroom window marked an unsuccessful attempt.

A bathroom window screen had been removed and tossed into some tall weeds more than 50 feet from the house. A pry mark was found on the bottom of the wooden frame of the window, which was found shut but unlocked, the affidavit states.

New technology for an old case

About 140 pieces of evidence were collected from the scene and, over time, a variety of technological advances were used on the items as detectives tried to solve the crime, Abeyta wrote. In 1983, two years after the killing, forensic technicians using an alternate light source found “potential foreign material” on the orange area rug where Quayle had died.

It would ultimately be identified as semen.

That same year brought a ray of hope for investigators and Quayle’s family after notorious drifter and serial killer Ottis Elwood Toole confessed to killing Quayle. KUSA in Denver reported that Toole described trees and hedges around the slain woman’s home for detectives.

Many of Toole’s confessions were later called into question, however, along with those of his companion, Henry Lee Lucas. Lucas, who died in a Texas prison in 2001, claimed hundreds of victims, though authorities were only able to confirm a handful.

Learn more about Henry Lee Lucas on Netflix’s “The Confession Killer.”

One of the most well-known crimes Toole confessed to was the July 1981 abduction and murder of Adam Walsh, the 6-year-old son of America’s Most Wanted host John Walsh, in Hollywood, Florida.

Adam’s severed head was found days later in a canal near Vero Beach. The rest of his body remains missing.

Though Toole later recanted his confession in the boy’s murder, Hollywood police officials announced in 2008 that they had closed the case, satisfied that Toole was Adam’s killer.

Bob Gallagher, then the Arapahoe County district attorney, in 1993 dropped the charges against Toole in Quayle’s killing, KUSA reported. By then, DNA testing on the evidence in the case had proven that Toole was not the source of the DNA found at the crime scene 12 years earlier.

In 1995, a semen-stained section of the orange rug was cut out and submitted to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for testing. Five years later, the sample provided CBI agents with an unknown male DNA profile, Abeyta wrote.

The profile was plugged into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, but no match was found.

Nearly 20 years later, in 2019, Metro Denver Crime Stoppers partnered with United Data Connect, a company founded by a former Denver district attorney that works in the burgeoning industry of genetic genealogy.

The technique, which led California authorities to the infamous Golden State Killer in 2018, has helped law enforcement officials solve a plethora of cold cases since then. United Data Connect, in particular, has also helped authorities name a suspect in the 1963 murder of Margaret “Peggy” Beck, a 16-year-old Denver Girl Scout counselor found raped and strangled in her tent during a camping trip in the Pike National Forest.

The suspect, James Raymond Taylor, was last seen in 1976, and authorities are uncertain if he is still alive. A warrant was issued for his arrest last April.

>> Related story: Colorado police seek suspect identified in 1963 killing of Girl Scout

In January 2020, Cherry Hills Village cold case detectives and investigators from the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office approached Crime Stoppers with Quayle’s case, according to a news release from Crime Stoppers.

“After reviewing the case, it was determined that the evidence in the case could contain the type of DNA that could be used to further the investigation using state-of-the-art familial DNA investigations,” the news release said.

Four months later, the company’s technicians had a name — David Dwayne Anderson.

At the time of Quayle’s homicide, Anderson, then 22, lived a couple of miles away in neighboring Englewood.

Confirming suspicions

Cold case detectives began investigating Anderson and, in January, United Data Connect’s own investigator, Robert Fuller, traveled to Cozad, where Anderson now lives, to secretly collect the man’s DNA. While watching Anderson’s movements from outside his apartment complex on Jan. 18, Fuller recovered two trash bags Anderson had tossed into a dumpster.

Inside were 15 items that potentially held Anderson’s genetic material, the affidavit states.

Two days later, Fuller met with an investigator at a Sterling, Colorado, travel stop to turn over the confiscated items, which he had individually bagged in evidence bags, Abeyta wrote. Cherry Hills Village evidence technicians submitted the items, in turn, to the CBI for analysis.

Included among the items was a Vanilla Coke can, a Great Value water bottle, a spiced rum bottle and a Michelob Ultra beer bottle, according to the detective.

“On Jan. 29, 2021, (I) received a lab report from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation indicating a male DNA profile was developed from the submitted Vanilla Coke can,” Abeyta wrote. “The report also indicated that the developed profile was a match to multiple items of evidence recovered from Sylvia Quayle’s body and residence during her homicide investigation.”

Carpet fibers from the area rug contained Anderson’s semen, as did swabs taken from Quayle’s vagina during autopsy, the court records show. His DNA was also found on a swab of Quayle’s left breast.

DNA found on the white towel found over Quayle’s face was a mix of her blood and Anderson’s semen, the affidavit states.

When investigators looked into Anderson’s background, they found a string of at least eight home and business burglaries between 1981 and 1986. On at least two of those occasions, Anderson wore gloves.

In one of the home burglaries, he removed and tossed a window screen in order to gain entrance, just as the assailant did in the Quayle homicide, the affidavit states.

If convicted of murder, Anderson faces life in prison with the chance of parole after 20 years. That was the penalty in place in 1981, when Quayle was slain, KUSA reported.

The current state law does not allow parole for a conviction of first-degree murder.

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Mitch Morrissey, the former prosecutor who founded United Data Connect, said Thursday that it meant a lot to him to meet Quayle’s remaining family. He said one detail of the case that truly disturbed him was the fact that her father was the person who stumbled upon her body.

“The way that she was left after being brutalized, and killed, I can’t imagine as a father myself of a young woman about this age to have a morning like that.”

Tovrea said last month’s arrest in Nebraska was a long time coming.

“I am proud to be able to tell Sylvia’s sister and brother-in-law that the men and women of our department have anticipated the opportunity to make this announcement for almost 40 years,” she said.

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