Family tree led detectives to suspect in 1986 Holstead murder

Published: Nov. 2, 2020 at 10:48 AM CST|Updated: Nov. 2, 2020 at 1:00 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A Green Bay police detective says DNA and a lot genealogy research led to the arrest of a man last week for the 1986 murder of Lisa Holstead.

Holstead, 22, was found dead in a marshy section of the Ken Euers Nature Area on Green Bay’s west side 34 years ago in August of 1986. She was sexually assaulted and strangled. As Action 2 News first reported last week, police arrested 65-year-old Lou Archie Griffin in Racine on a charge of 1st Degree Intentional Homicide last Wednesday.

Griffin was charged with Holstead’s murder Thursday, with prosecutors only saying he had not been on their radar as a suspect until recently, but wouldn’t say how they found him in the first place.

Monday morning, police held a news conference to shine more light on the case. Police Chief Andrew Smith says the reason they were able to solve the case was because of great police work and evidence collection in 1986.

Detective David Graf said police weren’t finding a match in law enforcement DNA databases throughout the United States. About two years ago, he reached out to a company that does DNA tests for forensic genetic genealogy, which could tell them not only more about their suspect (“such as his hair color,” Graf said) but also the killer’s possible relatives. The tests are similar to the ones families take to track their heritage, and would give police a different pool of DNA to compare the evidence to.

Police sent the suspect’s DNA to a lab for analysis, and came back with a lot of information about the man’s heritage, which sent him on a new path to finding the suspect.

“We were able to identify some relatives - not real close relatives, but close enough that... it’s a lot of work doing the background and basically do a family tree in reverse,” said Detective Dave Graf of the Green Bay Police Department.

Using that information, police found groups of people through databases and websites who might be relatives. They found a group of people who live in other states, which eventually led them to relatives in Wisconsin, and ultimately to a family member who lived in Green Bay in 1986.

“I can tell you there’s probably like 10-15 trees that we started that we were able to identify as potential relatives. In this case, we were able to find a group of people that lived in Wisconsin and doing more research on them, we came up with Mr. Griffin,” said Detective Graf. “What brought our attention to Mr. Griffin was his past history, he had just gotten out of prison for sexual assault and moved up to Green Bay about a month before.”

Police add they haven’t found any connection between Holstead and Griffin. Witnesses saw Lisa Holstead get out of her boyfriend’s car in the area of Mason and Taylor streets at about 2:30 a.m. on August 12, 1986. Police now know Griffin lived a few miles from there.

At some point, Griffin moved to Racine. Green Bay police worked with Racine County authorities, as well as the FBI and DCI. Griffin was put under surveillance. DNA was collected from a discarded cigarette and beer cans and was a match to the murder evidence.

“Forensic genetic genealogy is very complicated -- it’s something I don’t understand very well -- but Detective Dave Graf here was able to use that to put this case together. And then with some fantastic police work from our associates, with the Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation and the Racine County Sheriff’s Department Metro Drug Unit, they were able to ultimately solve this case, arrest the individual, Lou Archie Griffin, and he’s being held here in Brown County," Smith said.

Graf said Griffin was cooperative. He voluntarily went to the sheriff’s office and talked with investigators for a few hours. Prosecutors say Griffin eventually told police he might have had sex with Holstead but denied killing her. He remembered he was high on cocaine and drinking alcohol that night.

Graf said after Griffin’s arrest, he has received another DNA sample, which he sent in for testing to verify police have the right man.

It was called the city’s oldest cold case murder investigation, but Chief Smith said “There are no cold cases in Green Bay,” explaining every unsolved murder gets a constant review.

Smith said the arrest was thanks to the “a lot of tenacity” by the detective squad. Chief Smith and Mayor Eric Genrich praised Graf at the news conference for the long hours on this case that got results.

Holstead’s family wasn’t at Monday’s news conference, but Chief Smith read a letter Lisa’s mother had written two months after the murder.

“It says - waiting for confession. Pssst, you, talking about the horrible person that killed our loving daughter, Lisa Holstead in Green Bay on August 12th. How can you continue to live life every day knowing what you’ve done. Apparently you have no conscience,” read Chief Smith.

Robert Hughes, the Special Agent in Charge for FBI-Milwaukee, also spoke at the conference.

“I am really sorry that Lisa’s mother isn’t here to see justice served, but I’m sure she’s looking down right now and I’m sure she’s appreciating what she’s seeing,” said Hughes.

Griffin is due back in court later this month.

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