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Double homicide, cold case break bring charges in Hennepin County

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Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman speaks at a press conference. The county attorney's office Thursday filed charges against two men in two separate Minneapolis cases, including killings from last weekend and a cold case from the 1990s.
Matt Sepic | MPR News 2017

 Updated: 2:35 p.m. | Posted: 1:37 p.m. 

The Hennepin County Attorney's office Thursday filed charges against two men in two separate Minneapolis cases, including killings from last weekend and a cold case from the 1990s.

Richie Lee Vessel
Richie Lee Vessel
Courtesy of Hennepin County Sheriff's Office

In one case, prosecutors say Richie Lee Vessel, 46, shot and killed his neighbor across the apartment hallway, Eileen Marsha Mark, and her daughter, Jennifer Ann Angerhofer, who was visiting her mother.

According to the criminal charges, a witness heard loud music, arguing and then gun shots but didn't see anyone flee the area. When he was questioned, Vessel said he hadn't heard anything, even though he lives across the hall, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman told reporters Thursday.

The criminal complaint says others in the building told police Vessel owned a handgun and had threatened to kill another resident, and a search warrant on his apartment found possible blood on the walls, light switch and clothing.

"They also found a trash bag in the dumpster that had a .40 caliber Smith & Wesson handgun, ammunition and mail and a prescription bottle with Vessel's name on it," the Hennepin County Attorney's Office said in a statement.

Jerry Arnold Westrom
Jerry Arnold Westrom
Courtesy of Hennepin County Sheriff's Office

Prosecutors also filed a murder charge against Jerry Westrom, 52, of Isanti, Minn., in the 1993 slaying of Jeanne Ann Childs.

The charges say Childs was slashed or stabbed more than two dozen times.

Police say the investigation was also helped by a private DNA company and an online genealogy website that helped identify the suspect's DNA as being consistent with DNA left at the crime scene.

Prosecutors say Westrom denied being in Childs' apartment and told police he had no idea why his DNA was at the scene of the killing.

Childs used an apartment at 3100 Pillsbury Ave. S. to meet prostitution clients, court documents said. She was found on the floor wearing only socks. Blood was found on a bed and in a bathroom nearby. 

According to court documents, investigators identified Westrom and another possible suspect from genealogical searches, but they focused on Westrom because he had lived in the Twin Cities at the time of Childs' death and he was convicted for solicitation in 2016.

Beginning in January, investigators began watching Westrom. They followed him to a hockey game and secretly retrieved a napkin he used. 

"The BCA was able to determine that the napkin contained a mixture of DNA, however the major male profile observed was consistent with DNA samples recovered from the crime scene," prosecutors said.

Freeman called it "kind of ingenious" that investigators would think of grabbing the napkin. "When you discard things in the trash, the Supreme Court has often said it's fair game."

MPR News reporter Matt Sepic contributed to this report.