Police in Northern California solved a 31-year-old case this week after DNA found under a murder victim’s fingernails matched the profile of a criminal in the Combined DNA Index System database.
Vicki Johnson, 34 at the time of her death on Jan. 3,1991, was found near a playground in Seaside’s Sabado Park after she had been suffocated with sand, bitten all over her body, strangled to death and set on fire, Seaside Police Chief Nick Borges told FOX News Digital.
“In those days there was a lot of gang violence but this one shocked everyone – she wasn’t associated with gangs… and to be killed the way that she was,” Borges told FOX on Tuesday.
Borges said the mother-of-three “fought so hard” she broke most of her fingernails. When the Monterey County District Attorney’s office launched its cold case taskforce, Johnson’s was “one of many” cases reopened – and skin from under her fingernails was submitted to the California Department of Justice for DNA testing.
“It took two years to get a hit back on this particular testing,” Borges said. “That’s because of backlogs, lack of staffing. It’s really sad – it ties into my frustration with cold cases in general.”
That DNA matched an ex-convict logged into the CODIS national database: Seaside resident Frank Lewis McClure, who died in 2021 at the age of 77. Police say they do not know McClure’s motive or whether he and Johnson knew each other.
Borges told FOX News Digital that McClure had been convicted of several violent crimes, including assault with a deadly weapon and domestic violence against women. He could not provide specifics surrounding the arrests at press time.
“He has been to prison for assaults with deadly weapons and domestic violence against women but nothing that rose to the level that would alarm or alert us that this guy would be engaged with murder,” Borges said. “He was pretty well known in the community, not so much as a great person, but his family was well known and everyone was fairly surprised.”
In the final years of her life, Borges said, Johnson suffered from a crack addiction.
“Was [the case not investigated fully] because of the lifestyle she was living? Because she was involved in drugs? Either way, I think it’s a failure.”
Now that police have identified McClure as Johnson’s killer, Borges said there are currently 32 unsolved murders in Seaside. Thanks to renewed focus on long-cold cases, three more killers have been identified in the past two years: Robert John Lanoue, accused of raping murdering 5-year-old Anne Pham in 1982; Edward Rodriguez, still wanted for the 2014 killing of Elizabeth Baker per KSBW 8; and Anthony Martezz Randall, who was convicted of shooting Lloyd Joseph Perkins in 1995, per CBS News Bay Area.
Since 19-year veteran Borges was appointed as Seaside’s police chief last August, he has enacted a new policy: every investigation supervisor on the department’s cold case unit must submit audits of their remaining cold cases. Using that audit, he said, officers can reexamine old evidence and interviews.
“Some cities get overwhelmed with crime, but I believe solving murders is a way to solve future murders. If people know you’re going to solve the case they’re going to think twice,” he told FOX News Digital. “Overall, I just don’t understand how you forget about a case and then let it sit there and then finish your career and move on. There’s people all over this country waiting for justice and they’re just hoping that investigators are motivated. That to me is unacceptable.”