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SALT LAKE CITY — An Ohio woman's family has finally received answers nearly 24 years after she was found dead along the highway in Garfield County, as investigators say DNA technology helped them identify her husband as her killer.
For Brian Davis, an agent with the Utah Department of Public Safety, working on the cold case for years made it feel "personal" as he connected with the woman's family.
He counts closing the case among his career highlights. And the woman's sister in Mexico — who lost her when she was 11 years old — and other family members no longer need to wonder.
"You can imagine what they've gone through," Davis said, noting that the sister grew up not knowing "what happened to her sister."
Police identified the "Maidenwater victim" in 2018 as law enforcement in Youngstown, Ohio, updated their missing persons files, including that of Lina Reyes-Geddes, 38, who disappeared after allegedly leaving on a trip from Ohio to Dallas and then to Mexico to visit her family.
On April 20, 1998, an unidentified deceased female was located along state Route 276 near Maidenwater Spring in Utah's Garfield County. When investigators arrived, they found a woman in her late 30s to mid-40s covered with plastic bags, wrapped in duct tape, tied with rope, and placed inside a sleeping bag before being wrapped in a carpet. Despite an exhaustive investigation by the Garfield County Sheriff's Office and the Utah State Bureau of Investigation, the woman was not identified, and the case went cold.
That is until Ohio police updated Reyes-Geddes' missing persons file and obtained a picture of Reyes-Geddes from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It was the first picture police had ever received of the missing woman.
A private citizen in California linked the two cases. Two of Reyes-Geddes' family members traveled to the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey, Mexico, to offer DNA swabs and a match was made.
Recently, DNA evidence gathered through new technology helped investigators from Utah and Ohio identify her likely killer as Edward Geddes, her husband. He died by suicide in 2001 in Nevada.
State police in Utah received help from a crime scene investigator in West Jordan to use a special technology, which Davis described as a type of wet vacuum that pulls DNA from more porous items, to analyze the rope the killer used to tie up Reyes-Geddes.
Investigators had tried to pull DNA from the rope a few times in the past, but all they had found was Reyes-Geddes' DNA. This time, however, the technology gave them 117 nanograms of DNA — more than enough to create a profile of the suspect, Davis said.
"Technology allows us to get a full DNA profile from just one nanogram of DNA," he explained.
By that time, Geddes was the main suspect in the murder. Because he died in 2001 and was cremated, police requested DNA from family members, two of whom complied. Investigators used search warrants to get DNA from a third family member.
All three people were familial matches to the DNA found on the rope, Davis said.
A second man's DNA was also found on the rope, and police needed to find a lab with other advanced technology to "unmix" it from Geddes' DNA. Once they did, they put it in the national CODIS database, and it matched with another murder in Montana.
Local investigators reached out to Montana police, and they found out the DNA came from a knot expert who accidentally contaminated it, according to Davis.
That left Geddes as the only other person whose DNA was found with his wife's body, leaving police with enough confidence that he killed her and to close the case.
"To have this answer finally after 24 years is incredible," Davis said, adding that he's grateful for all the agencies in different states that "came together" to make it happen.
He noted her family long suspected the husband.
"And I know it's not the answer that (her sister) would have wanted when she found her sister … but they had suspected. In fact, quite frankly, their family thought that Edward had done something to her. They just hadn't proved it. … That was always their hunch," Davis said.
Earlier during the investigation, police looked into a potential connection to convicted serial killer Scott Kimball, who killed at least four people and is suspected in numerous other unsolved murders. But Davis said he was ultimately ruled out as a suspect.
Correction: A previous version misstated Lina Reyes-Geddes' first name as Linda.