The big tip came in December.
Using a combination of DNA evidence and family tree analysis, a team of genetic genealogists in Virginia produced a strong lead in the 1975 stabbing death of Lindy Sue Biechler in her Manor Township apartment. They had a name: David Vincent Sinopoli.
Lancaster County law enforcement officials Sunday arrested Sinopoli and charged him with killing Biechler, a stunning development in the county’s oldest cold case.
But local detectives had a lot of work to do before they could take the tip that science had yielded and turn it into an arrest.
“The reality was David Sinopoli was not on our radar. None of the tips over the years have suggested him as a possible suspect,” District Attorney Heather Adams said Monday during a press conference.
A research team from Parabon NanoLabs, led by genetic specialist CeCe Moore, had analyzed semen found on Biechler’s underwear and narrowed down the suspect to someone whose family tree traced back to Gasperina, Italy. They cross-referenced that information with Lancaster County immigration data and pointed detectives toward Sinopoli.
Trailing the suspect
Sinopoli, 68, of East Hempfield Township, had lived in the same apartment complex as Biechler for a time, but moved out sometime prior to August 1975. He lived on the second floor of the four-unit building. Biechler and her husband lived on the first floor. She was sexually assaulted and stabbed 19 times in her home on Dec. 5, 1975.
Local police didn’t have Sinopoli’s DNA on file, so county detectives needed to somehow obtain a sample.
According to charging documents, investigators learned on Feb. 8 that Sinopoli, his wife and another couple were flying out of the country three days later from Philadelphia International Airport.
The documents don’t say how investigators learned that information, but Detective Larry Martin saw Sinopoli and the other three people sitting in a La Colombe coffee shop at the airport.
Everyone but Sinopoli had coffee cups. A brown paper bag was between Sinopoli and his wife. He threw some napkins inside it, placed his wife’s coffee cup in it, folded the top and tossed it into an empty trash can.
Martin retrieved the bag from the trash after the two couples left and found a cup under Sinopoli’s wife’s cup.
“The finding of the extra coffee cup on the bottom of the bag and the totality of the circumstances is evidence that demonstrated to Det. Martin that the coffee cup on the bottom of the brown paper bag was Sinopoli’s cup or used by him,” the affidavit said.
Detectives used a similar method to obtain a DNA sample from Raymond Rowe, who was also developed as homicide suspect using genetic genealogy for the 1992 rape and murder of East Lampeter Township schoolteacher Christy Mirack.
In that case, undercover investigators recovered used chewing gum and a water bottle Rowe had used while working an event as a disc jockey at Smoketown Elementary School.
“Surveillance in this case proved to be much more difficult as compared to the Mirack case where the defendant had a career as a disc jockey appearing at various public events” Adams said Tuesday, explaining why investigators had to go to the airport to get Sinopoli’s DNA.
When Martin found the coffee cup, it had a mixture of DNA on it with one male contributor, so it was sent to Cybergenetics in Pittsburgh to separate and determine individual DNA patterns.
Subsequent testing on the DNA samples from the underwear and coffee showed a statistical match of 10 trillion, meaning the likelihood that the DNA was from two different people was 1 in 10 trillion; Earth's population is about 7.8 billion.
'Seemed like a nice guy': What we know about the man charged with 1975 killing of Lindy Sue Biechler
Solidifying the match
Then in May, the district attorney’s office consulted with East Lampeter Township Detective Scott Eelman, a blood pattern analysis expert, to examine crime scene photographs to determine if any blood on Biecher’s clothing could have been left by the killer.
“Detectives had long believed the murderer had cut himself during the attack,” Adams said.
Eelman identified two spots of suspected blood on Biechler’s pantyhose and recommended they be tested.
The pantyhose were sent for testing, and on June 16, the lab reported that the DNA profile from the blood was consistent with the DNA sample taken from Biechler’s underwear.
Based on the matches, investigators obtained a sealed arrest warrant on July 14 and arrested Sinopoli at his home Sunday morning.
Asked why the warrant was sealed, Adams said she couldn’t comment on what is not in the charging documents, “but generally speaking, where so much time has elapsed from the crime and a suspect has been free for decades, as here, law enforcement has concern about flight should the subject find out, and, of course, their safety as well as the safety of the suspect and anyone around the suspect at the time of the arrest.”
Adam said the case has been “a never-ending pursuit of justice for Lindy Sue Biechler.”
A preliminary hearing for Sinopoli is scheduled for 9 a.m. July 25 before District Judge Joshua Keller. Court records do not list an attorney for Sinopoli. He is being held without bail at Lancaster County Prison.
DO YOU HAVE A TIP?
The Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office asks that anyone who had contact with David V. Sinopoli in 1975 or has any information about the case to contact county Detective Christopher Erb at 717-299-8100. Tips can be submitted online at lancaster.crimewatchpa.com/da/submit-tip.