After more than 40 years of chasing dead-end leads, detectives announced Wednesday they believe they have identified the assailant who raped and murdered a young Santee woman in her home at the outset of the 1980s.
A relatively recent discipline focusing on tracing family lineages that can lead to criminal suspects allowed investigators to link DNA evidence collected at the scene of 20-year-old Michelle Wyatt’s slaying to the apparent perpetrator — a onetime neighbor who died 17 years ago, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
The breakthrough determined that the newly identified suspect, John Patrick Hogan, was the source of the previously untraced seminal fluid and “revealed substantial and convincing evidence that Hogan sexually assaulted and murdered Michelle,” sheriff’s Lt. Thomas Seiver said.
“Michelle’s murder would likely have gone unsolved if not for the use of investigative genetic genealogy,” the lieutenant said.
On Oct. 9, 1980, Wyatt’s roommate found her dead on the living room floor of the rental unit they shared about a mile north of Santana High School.
She had been raped and strangled.
“The telephone cord used to kill Michelle was obtained from her condominium,” Seiver said. “The contents of Michelle’s purse were strewn about, but it did not appear to be a robbery or burglary of the residence.”
Answers about who cut short Wyatt’s life proved extremely elusive.
Following an “exhaustive” investigation, “all leads were followed until the case went cold,” Seiver said.
Over the ensuing decades, investigators reopened the case several times and applied the latest DNA testing techniques, only to come up empty again in their attempts to solve the murder.
In March of last year, sheriff’s investigators decided to review the case once more to determine if any new technologies existed that could advance it, Seiver said. Working with the California Department of Justice, they tested the unknown genetic material using a familial DNA search, again uncovering no viable suspects in the slaying.
In September, the sheriff’s cold-case team and crime laboratory personnel began to scrutinize the evidence through the lens of investigative genetic genealogy.
“In this case, the goal was to find relatives whose own DNA profile matched those of (the) unidentified suspect in the homicide,” the lieutenant said. “The suspect’s profile was developed and uploaded into commercial genealogy sites that allow law enforcement agencies to participate.”
Over the next nine months, with the assistance of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies throughout the country, investigators identified relatives of Hogan’s who agreed to provide DNA samples, which confirmed the identification of him as a potential suspect.
The cold-case detectives then began an intensive investigation into Hogan’s life. The suspect was born in Arizona in 1961 and moved to Santee sometime in the 1970s, went to Santana High School and at one time may have lived in the same condominium complex as the victim.
Hogan had friends in the complex, which he would frequently visit. At the time of the murder, he lived in Santee just over a mile from Wyatt’s condominium.
Hogan joined the Air Force in 1979 and was stationed in New Mexico for a brief stint. He traveled back and forth among the states of Arizona, California and Idaho until his death in 2004, at age 42.
Despite the identification of Hogan as Wyatt’s presumed killer, detectives consider the case open still, according to Seiver.
“The cold-case team would like to speak with anybody who has information about the murder or knew John ‘Pat’ Hogan … in the late 1970s and early 1980s,” the lieutenant said.
Anyone who might be able to shed further light on the case is asked to call San Diego County Crime Stoppers at 888-580-8477.