Joseph Holt largely stayed off the radar of law enforcement for decades, but new DNA technology has unearthed a series of chilling secrets. He worked as a realtor and didn’t raise suspicion.
Authorities in El Dorado County, California now say they believe Holt is responsible for two terrifying murders in South Lake Tahoe, of a young casino worker and a teenage girl. Holt died of a heart attack in 2014.
“Joseph Holt was never on the radar,” John Gaines, an investigator with the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office, told Fox40.
Here’s what you do know:
1. Brynn Rainey’s Body Was Found in a Shallow Grave by Horseback Riders & Carol Andersen Was Murdered Two Years later
One of the murdered women was Brynn Rainey, who was 27-years-old when she vanished in 1977.
“Her body was found in a shallow grave by passing horseback riders near Stateline Stables in South Lake Tahoe,” the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office wrote in a statement.
The killer struck again two years later. Carol Andersen, 16, was killed in 1979. “Her battered body was found on the side of a road, also in South Lake Tahoe,” the office says.
“Brynn Rainey’s family and Carol Andersen’s family are grateful to finally know who took their loved one so many years ago. They expressed their support for the use of this technology to solve crimes. Both families ask that the public respect their privacy,” the DA says.
“The Cold Case Task Force is continuing to investigate whether Joseph Holt is responsible for other unsolved crimes. If you have any information concerning Joseph Holt, or any information concerning any unsolved crime in El Dorado County, please contact the Cold Case Task Force Tip Line at (530) 621-4590.”
On August 20, 1977, Rainey’s nude body was found partially buried. A purse with identification and clothing were found near the body. She was reported a missing person a month earlier. She had moved to the Tahoe area from Ohio in March 1977 and worked at a local casino as a keno runner, according to a cold case video from authorities. SFGate reports that co-workers first noticed she was missing.
She was positively identified as the murder victim and the pathologist thought the cause of death was strangulation or suffocation.
Andersen was found along the side of the road. Her cause of death was determined to be strangulation. She was going into her junior year in high school. She was last seen leaving a party in South Lake Tahoe, the cold case video says.
2. Investigators Constructed a Family Tree From DNA Recovered at the Scenes
Investigators used a relatively new familial DNA investigative process; it was also used to nab the man accused of being the Golden State serial killer.
In the cases of Brynn and Carol, their murders “went unsolved for 41 and 39 years, respectively, until the El Dorado Cold Case Task Force employed Parabon Nanolabs to construct a ‘family tree’ from DNA recovered from a blood stain on Brynn Rainey’s shirt and DNA recovered from Carol Andersen’s body during her autopsy,” the DA wrote.
Authorities released this video explaining how genealogy and DNA techniques can be combined to solve crimes.
Genetic DNA techniques allow people to figure out the family tree of a suspect by using an open-source database to compare DNA to DNA submitted by people trying to find relatives. Sometimes, authorities find a partial match to a relative – even a distant relative. Then, they use shoe leather investigative techniques to figure out the best suspects in the family tree. Finally, once they have a small list of plausible suspects, they obtain DNA from the suspects to see who is most likely the killer.
In the case of the two murders, the DNA led authorities to three deceased brothers as suspects – and then they narrowed those three down to Joseph Holt.
“Using a public DNA database, Parabon was able to build a family tree around the previously unidentified DNA, leading investigators to three deceased brothers who might be the source of the DNA recovered from the crime scenes.”
3. DNA on a Toothbrush Led Investigators to Conclude that Joseph Holt Was the Killer
Authorities then needed to find DNA from the three brothers to see which one was the killer.
“The Task Force collected DNA from the child of one of the brothers, as well as DNA from a toothbrush that belonged to that brother. Further DNA testing confirmed that Joseph Holt’s DNA is a match to the DNA found on Brynn Rainey’s shirt and Carol Andersen’s body,” the District Attorney wrote.
“Finally after 44 years of hell and back, we have some answers,” Rainey’s brother, Pete Garl, said to the Sacramento Bee.
Andersen’s family called Carol a “beautiful, vibrant teenager” to the Bee and praised the investigation.
4. Joseph Holt Worked as a Realtor & His Family Had No Clue He Was a Killer, Authorities Say
Joseph Holt was born in 1947 and “grew up in San Jose. He graduated Cupertino High School and UC Berkley. Holt moved to South Lake Tahoe in 1974 and began a career in real estate,” the DA says.
“He died in 2014 and was not identified as a suspect until 2018. Holt’s surviving family members had no idea he was a killer, and fully cooperated with law enforcement during this investigation.”
“He was a pretty successful predator,’ District Attorney Vern Pierson said at a press conference.
5. Authorities Found Other Disturbing Evidence Belonging to Joseph Holt
Could Joseph Holt have perpetrated more crimes? Authorities say they found other troubling things in a garage containing his old belongings.
According to the Bee, a case summary says authorities found “evidence suggestive of other criminal conduct,” including “newspaper clippings from a January 1975 story on an unsolved Los Gatos shooting, in which a man burglarizing a vehicle escaped after shooting a victim. The victim survived.”
The Bee notes that a sketch artist’s drawing of that suspect looks a lot like Holt, who had frequented the Los Gatos area where that incident occurred.