NEW PORT RICHEY — Twenty-three years after a high school girl was sexually assaulted and left for dead, Florida law enforcement officials announced Thursday they made an arrest using an advanced DNA-matching procedure.
Pasco sheriff's deputies have charged Jeffrey Norman Crum, 53, of Holiday with sexual battery and attempted murder. The woman, then 17 and enrolled in Land O'Lakes High School's special education program, survived after family members found her hours later "in a pool of blood" nearby behind an abandoned house south of Masaryktown, Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said at a news conference Thursday.
The Times is not identifying the victim because of the nature of the assault.
The DNA procedure, known as familial searching, allows law enforcement to find a suspect by comparing DNA left at the scene with that of family members.
The shortfall of a standard DNA search is that a suspect's genetic fingerprint must be on file in the offender database for law enforcement to make a match. Crum's wasn't. But when Florida Department of Law Enforcement specialists ran the DNA from the semen on the victim, it led them to Crum's son, Jeffrey Crum II, who is in prison.
Officials then obtained DNA samples from the younger Crum's brother, father and grandfather. The sheriff said a direct comparison between the DNA found on the victim and that of the father found a match with a certainty of 1 in 7.7 nonillion — a number with 30 zeros.
"This is stuff that's on TV and in movies," Nocco said. "We can use it now to solve cases."
If the familial search did not yield any matches, FDLE would have rerun the DNA every subsequent year in hopes that the perpetrator or one of his relatives passed through a county jail, said FDLE Crime Lab analyst supervisor Melissa Suddeth.
Crum is charged in a crime that unfolded Jan. 16, 1992, after the victim got off the bus from school. Investigators said Crum took the woman by the arm and led her behind an abandoned house where he hit her head with a blunt object so hard it crushed part of her skull and caused her to lose part of her brain. When the former honor roll student and track and field participant recovered, she was paralyzed on her left side, investigators said.
The family knew something was amiss when the victim didn't arrive home from school by 3 p.m., Nocco said, which was when one of her favorite shows — the soap opera General Hospital — aired. That's when the family called authorities and went out looking.
"I believe, probably like everybody else, that if it hadn't been for the family finding her then and getting her the assistance . . . she would have passed away," the sheriff said.
The victim's mother, contacted Thursday, declined to comment on the arrest.
At the time of the attack, law enforcement had no suspects, because DNA was "in its infancy," Suddeth said. Back then, she said, forensic specialists needed lots of DNA in good condition to run a search. Now, lab workers can get by with small quantities of the genetic material, even if it's in poor condition.
A 2003 case in Britain was one of the first known instances in which familial DNA searching was used, according to a report published by Stanford Law School. Since then, the method has been used domestically and abroad to track down suspects.
Nocco said the method can help solve other cold cases. "We know there are numerous other victims (of crime) out there, families that are seeing this (technology) and (it's) providing them hope," the sheriff said.
Crum has an extensive criminal history. He was convicted in 1987 of sexual assault and kidnapping, and served 18 months in prison, state records show. Since then, he has been arrested on charges of possession of marijuana, battery and driving with a suspended license. He was being held without bail Thursday in the Land O'Lakes Detention Center.
Investigators plan to use Crum's arrest as a jumping-off point for evaluating past cold cases, Pasco sheriff's spokesman Eddie Daniels said.
"Anything that may link to Crum," he said, "we'll look into it."
News researcher John Martin and Times staff writer Claire McNeill contributed to this report. Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Josh_Solomon15.