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45-year-old murder cold case solved; murderer died four years ago

Forensic science, old-fashioned police work lead to break in decades-old case

A recent breakthrough in a 45-year-old murder investigation has allowed the office of Alamance County’s sheriff to identify the killer of a young woman whose death had haunted local law enforcement officials since the summer of 1979.

Sheriff Terry Johnson convened a news conference on Thursday to announce this development in the murder of 19-year-old Tammy Sue Aldridge, who had vanished while jogging two days before her body turned up along a rural stretch of NC 54.

Speaking to an audience that included the victim’s family and friends, Johnson declared that his agency can confidently attribute Aldridge’s murder to Gary Layne LaFramboise, a now-deceased ex-felon who had all but escaped the notice of the investigators originally assigned to this case.

Sheriff Terry Johnson holds up a photo of the murderer, Gary Layne LaFramboise, based on age regression photography which shows how he might have looked in 1979; a booking photo in another case was no longer available.

    “This is a sad day and sort of a glad day. It’s sad because it took 45 years to develop a suspect in this case . . . but I’m also glad that I’m able to stand here and say ‘we’ve identified the perpetrator.’”

– Sheriff Terry Johnson

Closeup of the age-regression photo of LaFramboise.

“This is a sad day and sort of a glad day,” Johnson went on to say during the news conference. “It’s sad because it took 45 years to develop a suspect in this case…but I’m also glad that I’m able to stand here and say ‘we’ve identified the perpetrator.’”

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Although LaFramboise passed away in 2020, his identification as Aldridge’s killer has effectively closed the books on a case that had gripped Alamance County ever since the 19-year-old went on a fateful jog in June of 1979 from which she would never return.

The tension surrounding Aldridge’s disappearance grew over the ensuing days as members of her family received two phone calls in which the young woman offered her seemingly coerced reassurances that she was doing okay. Her family’s worst fears were eventually realized when a passing driver spotted Aldridge’s still-warm body along NC 54 in the small hours of July 2. A subsequent medical examination revealed that Aldridge had been raped before she was strangled and dumped in the road. Yet, the identity of her assailant remained an open question despite all the attention that this sensational case would receive in the wake of her death.

Johnson added that Aldridge’s murder had been one of several cold cases that he had decided to reopen when he first took over the sheriff’s office in 2002. He added, however, that the solution to this decades-old murder mystery initially eluded the detectives under his command – as it had the first generation of investigators to tackle the case.

Johnson ultimately chalked up LaFramboise’s identification as Aldridge’s killer to a combination of cutting-edge DNA analysis and good-old fashioned police work by members of his agency’s detective division. He was particularly keen to highlight the role of Sgt. Dan Denton, who had been the lead investigator on this case since January of 2020.

Denton went on to take the podium himself to describe the various twists and turns that the investigation had taken en route to its resolution. He added that the turning point in this came when he noticed LaFramboise’s name on a slip of paper that someone had left in the case file.

“Finding his name was the biggest thing,” he added, “that drove me to keep digging.”

Denton recalled that LaFramboise had never previously received any serious consideration as a suspect in Aldridge’s murder. Even so, the California native, who had moved to Alamance County from Florida in 1978, would become embroiled in another kidnapping case that Graham’s municipal police department investigated in October of 1979.

Later that year, the then 20-year-old embarked on a two-year prison stint after he was convicted of crimes that included assault with a deadly weapon. LaFramboise remained in North Carolina for another decade or so following his release in 1982. But he appeared to be all but forgotten by the time Johnson reopened the investigation into Aldridge’s murder more than two decades later.

Denton admitted that his chance discovery of LaFramboise’s name was merely the first step in establishing this suspect’s culpability for Aldridge’s death. The next challenge was securing the physical evidence to establish his guilt. Fortunately, the sheriff’s office was able to obtain DNA from some of the sperm found on the young woman’s body.

 

Murderer’s DNA matched through family members

A state forensics lab had previously been unable to match this sample with any other potential suspect in Aldridge’s death. Nor could it initially tie the sample to LaFramboise, who had passed away in March of 2020. Denton added, however, that the link was eventually firmed up thanks to genealogical DNA analysis, which officials in California had pioneered as a crime-fighting tool in 2016. All that remained was to find a close relative who could serve as a proxy for the now-deceased suspect.

“I learned that he had  a couple of family members still alive,” the detective added, “and I was able to get [DNA] from one of them who was gracious enough to volunteer to give me a sample.”

Denton said that LaFramboise’s connection to Aldridge’s murder was further clinched by interviews with surviving witnesses. As part of this process, the sheriff’s office had experts in age regression photography develop an image of LaFramboise as he would’ve appeared in 1979 – as his mugshot from the aforementioned kidnapping case had been lost to the mists of time.

The identification of Aldridge’s killer was welcomed with a welter of emotions by the friends and family members who on hand to hear the sheriff’s announcement. These survivors included the victim’s uncle Ken Aldridge, who commended the sheriff’s office for its efforts to bring peace of mind to his niece’s loved ones.

“I can never have complete closure,” he added, “but thank you.”

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