Killer Identified in 1980 Newport Beach Cold Case Murder

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Newport Beach Police Department

The 1980 murder of a 42-year-old Irvine wife and mother has been solved by the Newport Beach Police Department through the use of investigative genetic genealogy and new forensic crime solving techniques.

Kenneth Elwin Marks has been identified as the person responsible for the murder of 42-year-old Judith “Judy” Nesbitt, who was killed on November 26, 1980 while showing her family’s boat (the Felicidad IV) to a man she believed to be a potential buyer.

At approximately 1 p.m., the man, now known to be Kenneth Marks, followed Judy into the sleeping quarters of the boat and accosted her. After a violent struggle, Marks shot Judy and stole her credit cards, checkbook, and cash from her purse before fleeing the scene.

Marks died in 1999 without ever being identified as the suspect in Nesbitt’s murder, but generations of Newport Beach police officers never gave up on the cold case.

Hairs from the unknown suspect had been kept as evidence since the crime occurred. In 2002, a limited DNA profile was extracted from the roots of these hairs and entered into the FBI’s CODIS system, but the profile never matched with any other entries in the database.

In 2018, through the incredible work of Green Laboratories, LLC, a more expanded DNA profile was able to be extracted from the remaining hair shafts. This was the first DNA extraction of its kind to identify a murderer in a criminal investigation in the United States.

Investigators then used genetic genealogy techniques – and the assistance of Genetic Genealogist CeCe Moore – to identify Kenneth Marks as the killer in this case.

Members of the Newport Beach Police Department met with the Nesbitt family to inform them that Judy’s murder had finally been solved.

“This is a case that has hung heavy in the hearts of our community, our department, and the Nesbitt family,” said Newport Beach Police Chief Jon T. Lewis. “Kenneth Marks has passed away, but he no longer gets to hold the secret of his deeds. Through incredible advances in technology, and the tireless dedication of these investigators, we now have some closure for all who knew and loved Judy Nesbitt.”

The Newport Beach Police Department would like to thank law enforcement partners the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, the Orange County Crime Lab, the Texas Rangers’ Department of Public Safety, and the Wise County Sheriff’s Department for their assistance and commitment to this investigation.

Additional assistance came from non-government organizations: Green Laboratories, Astrea Forensics, Family Tree DNA, Verogen, Bode Technologies, and the University of North Texas.

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