New York

Fingerprint Database Leads Police to Suspect in 1975 San Diego Killing

SDPD said "emerging forensic sciences and technology" played a big role in the arrest

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San Diego police announced the arrest of a New York man Wednesday in connection with a decades-old killing in San Diego's Middletown neighborhood.

Alvaro Espeleta, 28, was found dead; beaten, bludgeoned, and strangled in his home on Reynard Way on December 31, 1975, according to the San Diego Police Department.

Espeleta was a dental technician with the U.S. Navy assigned to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at the time of his killing. Two of his coworkers went to his house to check on him after he didn't show up to work, and found him dead.

Investigators exhausted every lead, but never gave up hope.

Forty-four years later, SDPD has a suspect in custody thanks to "emerging forensic sciences and technology" and multi-agency collaboration.

San Diego’s Unsolved Cold Cases

A palm print was found on Espeleta's body at the time of his death but investigators could never find a match, according to the Albany Times Union, citing an anonymous official connected to the case.

A match for that palm print came nearly half a decade later and some 3,000 miles away when Dennis Lepage, 62, was arrested in New York on a minor charge and had his fingerprints ran through a law enforcement database, according to the paper.

Lepage was arrested once again at his apartment in Troy, New York, but this time he was charged with murder in connection to the cold case. He was 18 years old when he committed the alleged murder.

Investigators didn't not detail the relationship between Espeleta and Lepage, but an NCIS officials confirmed Lepage was once an active duty Navy Sailor stationed in San Diego.

Jeff Bullen lives in the apartment unit at the where the grisly murder occurred. He was aware of the crime because his address appears on the Crime Stoppers flyer inquiring the public about Espeleta's death.

He told NBC 7 there's always been eerie clues of an unfortunate event at his home, for example, his unit is carpeted while all his neighbors have hardwood floors. The flooring seems as if it were updated to cover something up, Bullen said.

Lepage was being held at the Rensselaer County prison in Troy awaiting an extradition hearing scheduled for Feb. 3.

SDPD said the case had been turned over to the San Diego County District Attorney's Office and that it could not comment.

The department thanked several agencies for their cooperation in the investigation, including the NCIS, FBI, DA's Office, San Diego County Sheriff's Department, New York State Police, Albany County Sheriff's Department, and others.

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