SAN DIEGO — Authorities revealed details for the first time Friday in a San Diego cold case arrest nearly two decades in the making.
Officials can now confidently say that human body parts found in 2003 in a dumpster in the East County neighborhood of Rancho San Diego belonged to a woman named Laurie Diane Potter, and that there is “substantial and convincing evidence” she was murdered by her husband, Jack.
Authorities say Potter was 54 years old at the time and had been living in Temecula.
“Once we identified Laurie Potter, we went back through her life and tried to identify who she was, where she was living, who were her friends or family during that time frame,” Sheriff’s Lt. Thomas Seaver explained Friday. “This is an ongoing criminal investigation so we can’t go into details, but we determined that there was substantial cause to believe Jack Potter murdered Laurie.”
On Wednesday, the San Diego Regional Fugitive Task Force arrested Potter, now 68 years old, at his home in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He was brought back to San Diego and booked into jail downtown on one count of murder. He will face that charge before a judge for the first time next Thursday.
Officials said that most of the loved ones they spoke to about Laurie had long ago lost touch with her but had no idea that she was dead.
“The victim’s family — and I’ve spoken to them — are very happy that I, number one, identified Laurie. Because they thought she was just living somewhere; nobody knew,” Troy DuGall, a lead investigator on the case, said. “And they’re extremely happy, once they get over the grief of Laurie being deceased, that we identified and arrested the suspect. So it’s bittersweet.”
The sheriff’s department says DuGall and other homicide investigators used genetic genealogy to solve the case, noting it’s the first time such technology has been used locally to identify a victim and make a subsequent arrest.
“This technique combines the science of DNA with the art of genealogy. In this case, the goal was to find relatives whose own DNA profile matched those of an unidentified victim of homicide. Once the victim’s profile was developed, it was uploaded into commercial genealogy sites that allow law enforcement agencies to participate,” a department news release explained.
“The Cold Case Team then formed family histories in the form of “trees”, which led detectives to other potential relatives of the woman. When speaking with relatives, detectives identify themselves, tell the person what they are investigating, explain the process, and ask for their assistance. This process eventually led investigators to closer relatives and ended with contacting Laurie’s son. Laurie’s son provided a DNA sample and she was identified.”
Pete Carrillo, a retired sheriff’s department homicide detective, told FOX 5 Thursday that there’s a percentage of people who “feel comfortable they can live in the same community where they kill and they feel they’re just that good.”
“But technology is getting better and detectives are getting better,” Carrillo said. “Their time will come. There will be justice.”
Cold cases are just that for a reason: years go by with more questions than answers, but Carrillo says the work never truly ends.
“Even if you have 100 cases, you prioritize them by solvability and you work with the ones with the most evidence first,” he said. “You whittle down to the very last one. You just don’t give up.”
The investigation into the murder of Laurie Potter is ongoing. “The Cold Case Team would like to speak with anybody who knew Laurie or Jack in the mid-80s through present,” the sheriff’s department said.
Tipsters can call the Homicide Unit at 858-285-6330 or remain anonymous with Crime Stoppers at 888-580-8477.