On Thursday, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown announced the arrest of 52-year-old Larry Lon Lee of Sarasota Florida in connection with the 1988 murder of Montecito resident Vernon Hart Kendrick, who was 46 years old at the time of his murder.
Sheriff Brown brown said Lee is currently in custody at the Sarasota County Jail, but the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office will file for extradition.
During a Thursday live press conference, the sheriff said evidence in the case was submitted to the California Department of Justice crime lab, who developed two DNA profiles. One profile matched the victim, the other, an unknown suspect.
The unknown DNA profile was sent to a DNA database known as CODIS. In August 2016, the Sheriff’s Office received notice that a DNA match had been made revealing Lee as the suspect, according to Sheriff Brown.
WELFARE CHECK LEADS TO MURDER CASE
Vernon Hart Kendrick 1941-1988 – Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office
Authorities discovered Kendrick’s body at his Montecito home after conducting a welfare check from his concerned employer. A Santa Barbara police officer went to Lee’s apartment on the 100 block of Olive Mill Road after Kendrick failed to show up for work at a local furniture business.
The officer found the body of man who’d suffered blunt force trauma. Brown said detectives determined items had been taken and considered robbery and theft a possible motive.
Kendrick was last seen alive on June 28, 1988 leaving The Palace restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara accompanied by another man with possible Florida ties.
“Despite all means, we couldn’t identify the person,” Brown said. The trail went cold.
Brown said over time, detectives reviewed evidence and put a “fresh set of eyes” on the case and incorporated the use of new technology.
Brown praised the “professionalism and fine work” by the original detectives who were tireless in their efforts collecting and dealing with “trace evidence,” when DNA technology was not available and refused to give up.
“We consider a murder case to never be closed until the suspect is brought to justice,” Brown said.
A MAN WITH A PAST
Lee has an extensive criminal history of theft and narcotics related arrests in several states including California and Florida, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office. He was most recently arrested in Manatee County on July 12, 2016 for an outstanding warrant and was transferred to the Sarasota County Jail on July 18, 2016.
Once Lee’s pending Florida criminal case has been resolved, the Sheriff’s Office will seek his extradition back to Santa Barbara County to face the murder charge.