The Nature Of The Killing Seemed Personal
“Loretta Lynn was a 26-year-old married mother, and pregnant with her second child, in June of 1988. She had spent her childhood growing up in Snowflake, Arizona, and was born as Loretta McCray, before wedding to her husband. She was described as kind, soft-spoken, and deeply dedicated to her religion.
By the late 80s, the couple had settled into the busy town of Mesa, Arizona, nestled between Tempe and Gilbert, on the outskirts of Phoenix. The two were busy raising their infant daughter, and preparing for their new arrival- they had even just moved into a brand new house on June 13th. Loretta would only spend one day in this house, however, before her life came to an end.
On the evening of June 13th, after settling into their new home on University and Greenfield, and finishing the unpacking, Loretta’s husband had to leave for his scheduled night shift at his job. After completing his shift, he arrived home at 3 am, to a quiet house. Assuming that his wife and the baby were sound asleep, he walked to his bedroom to join his wife. Once he entered and turned on the light, he found Loretta’s body, riddled with stab wounds, on the floor near their bed. Her body was partially wrapped in bedsheets, and she had been stabbed both on the front of her body and the back. There was no sign of any assault. The couple’s infant daughter was found unharmed and asleep in her crib.
Loretta’s husband was quickly ruled out as a suspect, having been seen at his job all evening. He was also cleared by DNA evidence, leading police and locals to wonder who had killed Loretta. It didn’t seem like she had any enemies, but the nature of the killing seemed personal. The closest motive that the police felt comfortable coming to was that it was perhaps a burglary gone wrong. They speculate that when the husband came home, it may have interrupted the burglary but no suspects were seen fleeing the home. The police also believed there could be no motive at all, speculating that someone high on narcotics may have just killed for the sake of it.
There was some merit to the burglary theory though. Neighbors around the duplex had reported multiple break-ins, and attempted break-ins, over the prior few weeks. With Loretta’s car having been gone, perhaps with her husband, police believe that the suspects might have assumed the home was empty. Despite this, the motive has never been clear to those investigating.
There was a palm print left behind at the scene, as well. This palm print was small in size, leading investigators to believe that it either belonged to a smaller-sized man or a juvenile.
The suspect pool was small, after ruling out her husband, and those close to the family. Dana, Loretta’s cousin, had identified a male teen who lived in the area, who had a juvenile criminal record, and a habit of breaking into homes in the area, using the same tactics to break in as was in the case with Loretta. These tactics haven’t been shared, and the police claim there were other factors that made him a strong suspect. Mesa Police executed a search warrant on this man’s home, as well as run his DNA, which, ultimately, was not a match.
The police also reported in the media that a light blue Nissan Pathfinder was seen in the area, around the time of the crime. As well as a light-colored El Camino that was considered a suspicious vehicle in the area for a week leading up to the murder.
During the attack, Loretta fought her attacker, scratching him with her nails. Once the body was taken to an autopsy, her nails were clipped and secured in an evidence bag. These skin cells were tested and did not provide a match to anyone within Loretta’s family, any persons of interest, or anyone in the criminal database.
Recently, at Loretta’s cousin, Dana’s urging, she persuaded the investigators to submit a sample from Loretta’s fingernails to Parabon Nanolabs, for additional testing. Parabon determined that the sample was not viable, and the investigators had the opportunity to send the entire nail clipping for testing, but this came with a risk.
Detective Rasheta said, ‘Last case resort, we go to the original source of the DNA testing, the fingernail DNA, and see if we just re-extract what we can there.’
Doing this, however, would destroy the sample. This would allow no opportunities to test the sample again in the future, should new, more advanced technology emerge. Detective Rasheta wanted to leave this decision up to the family.
Dana didn’t want to make this decision on her own, stating, ‘I’ll be sitting down with them soon, her parents and her siblings to talk about it. I don’t want to make that decision by myself. I’m going to talk to them and say this is our last effort and this could destroy the last bit (of DNA) they have.’
It appears the family ultimately went on to submit the DNA in May of 2022.
Loretta’s infant daughter, Rochelle, is now a 34-year-old mother, herself, raising three children. She was raised by her father and her stepmother. She took a vested interest in learning more about her mother, Loretta, once Rochelle started a family of her own. Rochelle says that she eventually came to peace with her mother’s death and wears her mother’s wedding ring around her neck. When Rochelle first got married, her father offered her Loretta’s ring, but at that time, Rochelle declined, as she didn’t feel comfortable at the time. She now proudly wears it and thinks of her mother each time she sees it in the mirror. Rochelle hopes for justice for her mother, but she says she hasn’t attached herself to the outcome as she knows nothing will bring her mother back, but had chosen to move on from it, and grow, while still keeping her mother’s memory alive.
Loretta and her best friend, as well as cousin, Dana, had gotten married within weeks of each other, and always joked about growing into old ladies, together. Dana deeply misses her cousin and still calls the investigators working the case every month.
It’s been 34 years, and Loretta Lynn’s murderer has never been caught. It appears this person has not even committed another crime since that night in June of 1988, as his DNA was not a hit in any criminal database. He still remains a free man, and I can only hope that one day, his DNA is linked through genetic genealogy, and he gets that fateful knock on his door, the knock he always feared would come.”