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Alabama man charged with capital murder in connection to 1999 killing of two teenagers

NBC News logo NBC News 3/18/2019 Farnoush Amiri

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An Alabama man was arrested and charged with multiple counts of capital murder in connection with the 1999 murder of two teenage girls who were found dead in the trunk of a car.

Investigators arrested Coley McCraney, 45, of Dothan, Alabama, on Friday, after using genetic genealogy to solve the decades-old cold case. McCraney has no criminal history, according to police, and was not considered a suspect in 1999 or in the years since.

The two teens, both 17 and students at Northview High school in Dothan, were on their way to a party on July 31, 1999, when they got lost and ended up about 20 miles northwest in Ozark, according to police.

Ozark Police Chief Marlos Walker said the last place the two were reported being seen was at a convenience store, where Hawlett made a call to her mother, telling her she was on her way home.

a man in a yellow shirt: Image:

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© Dale County Sheriff's Office
When they didn't make it back that night, her mother called the police.

Authorities found the black Mazda sedan the teens had been driving the next morning and discovered the bodies of the two in the trunk with gunshot wounds to their heads.

Investigators interviewed "hundreds of hundreds" of people and potential suspects over the years, but found nothing, Walker said.

The cold case made its first breakthrough after years of radio silence in August when Walker became inspired by the DNA results that led to the arrest of the suspected Golden State Killer, Joseph James DeAngelo.

"We had been following various leads for the past two years and even took our search out of state," Walker told NBC News. "But it never led to anything and seeing the Golden State Killer case prompted me to try something new."

Walker said he sent a DNA sample of the suspected killer to Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company in Virginia that has helped with other cold cases around the country.

The lab produced various genetic reports and investigators recognized McCraney's last name from the DNA search, Walker said.

Authorities then brought McCraney in for a DNA swab, the police chief added, and it matched the evidence collected at the crime scene and led to his arrest six months later, near the 20th anniversary of the teens' murder.

An attorney for McCraney did not immediately respond to NBC News' request for comment.

Walker said the parents of the girls "really wanted to live to see this day," where their daughters' murder case was solved.

"This new DNA technology has definitely changed a lot of our thinking," Walker said. "From years past it has always been boots-on-the-ground investigating and now with these DNA advancements, it has changed the game for law enforcement."

McCraney was charged with five counts of capital murder and one count of first-degree rape, according to the Dale County Sherrif's Office.

He is currently being held at the Dale County jail without bond, according to jail records.

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