NEW: DNA links Jesse Matthew to death of Virginia Tech student, source says
He's also a suspect in the disappearance of student Hannah Graham
The University of Virginia student was last seen on September 13
The arrest of Jesse Matthew – the suspect in the disappearance of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham – has resulted in a “significant break” in the 2009 death of another young woman in the same area, police said.
Virginia State Police say there is a “new forensic link” between the Hannah Graham case and the death of Morgan Harrington, a 20-year-old Virginia Tech student, who went missing after attending a Metallica concert in Charlottesville in October 2009. Her remains were found on a farm months later.
Almost from the start, speculation was raised about the possibility of a connection between Graham’s disappearance and Harrington’s death.
“Certainly the question has arisen. It’s certainly a legitimate question,” Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo told reporters last week.
No arrests have been made in Harrington’s case, and the cause of her death is still under investigation.
The last major development in the Harrington case came in 2010, when her slaying was connected to the kidnapping and sexual assault of another woman in Fairfax Virginia, in 2005.
That woman, who survived her ordeal, was able to provide police with enough of a description to make a sketch. That sketch is the closest thing to resolution that Harrington’s family has had.
Police at the time did not give the name of the woman who gave the description and said only that “forensic evidence” linked the two.
The revelation that Matthew may be linked to Harrington’s death, and the fact that Harrington’s death is linked to the kidnapping and rape of the woman in Fairfax, raises even more questions. Police have not publicly connected the dots except to say that his arrest has given them a break in the investigation of Harrington’s death. The suspect, Matthew was being held in isolation in a Virginia jail cell.
According to CNN affiliate WUSA, there are at least two other women besides Graham and Harrington who have disappeared from the same area since 2009. Alexis Murphy, 17, of Lovingston, and Samantha Clarke, 19, of Orange also went missing there.
In July, Randy Taylor, 49, was sentenced to two life terms for Murphy’s 2013 abduction and murder, although her body was never found, WVIR reported.
“If you look at the map and place the many missing or murdered young women in our area, it is a startling graphic,” Harrington’s mother, Gil Harrington, told CNN last week. “I mean it`s a scatter pattern of loss. And either it`s a cluster phenomena or to me – to my eyes it`s not unlikely that some of it, at least, is attributable to one top-tier predator.”
Harrington didn’t cite specific evidence for why she believes that at least some of the crimes might be the work of one person, but said she believes that solving the disappearance of Graham is key to unraveling the mysteries.
“Hannah is paramount right now. Her case is acute,” Gil Harrington said.
Authorities took Matthew to Charlottesville, Virginia, on Friday after he agreed not to fight extradition from Texas, where he had been taken into custody after police obtained a warrant for his arrest on Tuesday.
Investigators think he was the last person with Graham. He is charged with abduction with the intent to defile in the case, according to Charlottesville police.
Graham was last seen September 13 in an area of Charlottesville known as the Downtown Mall. Police have asked owners of large parcels of property in surrounding counties to search their land and report back.
Authorities are offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the safe return of the 18-year-old, a second-year student at the university.
Matthew’s father has said his son is not the type to hurt anyone.
“For a big man, he’s as gentle as they come,” Jesse Matthew Sr. told CNN affiliate WTVR. “The only thing I could see, him, maybe trying to give the girl a ride or help her out.”
“To kill or hurt somebody, that’s not my son.”
Authorities found Matthew on a Galveston County beach after deputies got a call about a suspicious person camping there. A license plate check revealed he was wanted, CNN affiliate KPRC reported.
Matthew did not resist arrest, police said.
Mike Rodenberg, a vacationer who was fishing near the campsite when Matthew was arrested, said Matthew asked about why he was throwing some of his catch back.
“He seemed real nice. He was real soft-spoken,” Rodenberg said. “(He) said he was down here from New Jersey and was looking for a job. I told him if I caught another redfish he could have it.”
In addition to Graham’s disappearance, Matthew also has been questioned in connection with an alleged sexual assault nearly 12 years ago.
According to a statement from Lynchburg police, a woman reported she was raped on the campus of Liberty University on October 17, 2002. Matthew was a student there for three years and played on the football team.
However, no charges were filed because the woman didn’t want to go forward with the case, and investigators determined there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest Matthew, said Michael Doucette, the commonwealth’s attorney for Lynchburg.
Matthew told authorities that the woman consented, Doucette said, adding that there were no witnesses.
CNN’s Steve Almasy, Jason Morris, Ed Lavandera, Jason Hanna, Jean Casarez, Ed Payne, Ben Brumfield and journalist Betsy Kaufman contributed to this report.