Man charged in 1972 murder of 15-year-old Ill. girl

"This horrific crime has haunted this family, this community and this department for 49 years," said Naperville Police Chief Robert Marshall


By Suzanne Baker and Madeline Buckley
Naperville Sun

NAPERVILLE, Ill. — A former Naperville man has been charged with first-degree murder in the 1972 stabbing death of 15-year-old Julie Ann Hanson, linked to the case through DNA evidence and genealogy, Naperville police Chief Robert Marshall and Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow said Friday.

Barry Lee Whelpley, 76, of the 8300 block of Pleasant View Drive in Mounds View, Minnesota, about 12 miles outside of St. Paul, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder. He was arrested Wednesday, the same day a neighbor described watching a SWAT team swarm his house, and he waived extradition Friday; bond was set at $10 million.

The Naperville girl disappeared July 7, 1972, while riding her 12-year-old brother's bicycle. Her body was found a day later in a ditch along 87th Street, about 100 feet away in a cornfield less than a mile east of Modaff Road in Will County.

The teenager had been stabbed 36 times and sexually assaulted.

"This brutal crime haunted our community many, many, many years. It hit the community, very hard," Marshall said. "This young girl, 15 years old, left her home in Naperville and never returned."

Whelpley, a 1964 Naperville Community High School graduate who is a retired welder, was 27 at the time of Hanson's murder. He lived in the 600 block of South Wehrli Drive, within a mile of the Hanson residence.

No suspect was identified at the time of her death.

The breakthrough came as a result of technological advancements in DNA and genetic genealogy analysis, Marshall said. Detectives used private labs throughout the country to assist with sophisticated DNA testing and genetic analysis.

Among those contributing, Marshall said, were senior forensic genealogist Misty Gillis of Identifinders International in California and company founder Colleen Fitzpatrick. Identifinders works with law enforcement agencies on violent crime cold cases.

Fitzpatrick said she originally spoke to police in Naperville in 2019 and eventually found a way to test the DNA, which had degraded.

Identifinders uses a database in which users voluntarily upload their DNA for analysis and research. The database's original purpose was for genealogy research but more recently has been used to help law enforcement solve cases, Fitzpatrick said.

In this case, Identifinders compared the DNA from the case to samples in their database and pulled up matches of what they call "DNA cousins," or matches from distant relatives who may or may not even know Whelpley, she said.

From there, they use public records, obituaries, newspaper archives and other sources to build out family trees and eventually zone in on a main suspect, she said.

[READ: Leveraging forensic genetic genealogy to solve cold cases]

Fitzpatrick said she was thrilled they were able to help make the connection.

"There's no better feeling," Fitzpatrick said of helping solve the case.

And she said other cases can be solved using these methods down the road, particularly the work in figuring out how to test the old DNA sample.

"The DNA part is unbelievably a miracle," she said. "That's going to be for other families to benefit from."

In addition, police worked with the HudsonAlpha Lab in Huntsville, Alabama, a biotech company that provides genomic testing, analysis and interpretation.

Whelpley's neighbor Becky Debus said she has lived near Whelpley's suburban St. Paul house for the past 17 years. On Wednesday, while working from home, she watched as a SWAT team descended on his property, she said.

He was already living at the house when she moved in, Debus said, and she can remember speaking to him only once. He happened to be sitting in his garage so she asked him about the neighborhood, she said.

"That was pretty much the only time we ever spoke to him," Debus said. "He kind of kept to himself."

Whelpley kept a low profile on the quiet street and never attracted any unusual attention, she said. A woman appeared to be living with him for a while, sometimes tending to flowers in the yard.

"I never would have thought," Debus said, of hearing the charges.

Although Julie's sister and brother did not return calls for comment, they issued a statement saying they are thankful there's been an arrest after all these years.

"As you might assume, it has been a long journey for our family. We are forever grateful to all those who have worked on this case throughout the many years," the family said in the statement read by Marshall.

Their parents are no longer alive. Marguerite Hanson died in 2019, and her husband, Jerome, 10 years earlier.

Glasgow said he never expected to be standing at the Naperville Municipal Building and talking about the case. " Julie Ann Hanson 1972: It's an outlier at that point," he said.

"These officers have stayed in touch with the families and finally been able to give them what they've been hoping for all these years," Glasgow said.

Whelpley's mother, Grace Agnes "Gra" Whelpley, died this year at age 96 in Colorado, according to her obituary. She and her husband moved to Naperville after World War II, where they raised Barry, another son who died in 2015 and a daughter, who also lives in Colorado.

During their time in Naperville, Whelpley's parents ran a business called the Hobby House, the obituary said.

Detectives have continued to investigate the murder for 49 years, Marshall said. Naperville police never gave up, chasing leads and identifying suspects, all of which had been eliminated throughout the exhaustive investigation, he said.

"People often call these types of cases, cold cases. This was never a cold case for our police department," Marshall said. "We were all conscious of Julie's murder, looking for the killer."

NEXT: 5 ways to solve a cold case

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(c)2021 the Naperville Sun (Naperville, Ill.)

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