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COLD CASE SOLVED: How a Las Vegas man’s donation helped solve 32-year-old murder


By John Huck

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    LAS VEGAS (KVVU) — Las Vegas Metropolitan Police announced in July 2021 that the 32-year-old cold case involving Stephanie Isaacson had been solved using a partnership between police, a Las Vegas philanthropist and Texas lab.

Isaacson was a freshman at Eldorado High School. She was abducted on June 1, 1989 while walking to school. Isaacson was sexually assaulted and beaten to death. Her case went decades without any concrete leads, until Las Vegas police submitted DNA evidence to a Texas laboratory for testing. Six months after the Texas laboratory processed the evidence, Isaacson’s case linked Darren Marchand as the killer.

The breakthrough in the case was made possible by Las Vegas resident Justin Woo. Woo is the founder of the organization Vegas Helps.

“What we try to do is fund things around $500 price point, they can be food, car problems, a baby that’s coming up, not enough resources, send care package with diapers, so it’s on a case by case basis, sharing positivity in the Vegas community”, Woo said.

The Isaacson case got Woo’s attention and he made a generous donation of $5,000 to help investigators send the evidence to Texas.

Othram Labs is the laboratory that processed the DNA evidence. Dave Mittelman, Chief Executive Officer for Othram said the lab’s sole mission is to solve cold cases.

“Some of these cases are very old but the families never forget. They’re always looking for their loved ones. The parents of Stephanie wanted to know what happened to Stephanie”, Mittelman said.

Othram used 15 human cells during testing to create a genetic profile of Isaacson’s killer.

The profile helped police link Darren Marchand as the killer. Police later learned that Marchand killed himself six years after Isaacson’s death.

Investigators said the evidence sent to Texas was las piece of DNA remaining. It was likely the last shot investigators had at solving Isaacson’s case.

While Isaacson’s killer escaped justice, Othram hopes this new technology will help other cold cases around country.

“I think this case demonstrates even where there is very little DNA left, there is still an opportunity to unlock vital leads that would help law enforcement crack the case”, Mittelman said.

Cold cases are often funded by law enforcement agencies and federal grants, but hope is made possible by people like Justin Woo. Woo’s generosity brought the Isaacson family answers, if not a bit of closure.

“These people are waiting, they may be waiting 20, 30 , 40 years but their still waiting. What we’ve learned is each one of these cases we’ve worked, there’s always been someone waiting for decades to get an answer”, Woo said.

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