Jul 21, 2023

Decades-Old New Hampshire Cold Case Murder Solved Through Genetic Genealogy, Officials Say

Laura Kempton (pictured right), 23, was found dead in her Portsmouth apartment in 1981.

A four-decade-old murder has been solved with the help of genetic genealogy technology, New Hampshire officials announced Thursday.

It was early in the morning of Sept. 28, 1981, when the body of then-23-year-old Laura Kempton was discovered in her apartment in Portsmouth. She had entered alone after a night out with a friend.

The autopsy determined she died of massive trauma to the left side of her head.

The evidence revealed a male DNA profile, but authorities — despite pursuing hundreds of leads and suspects — were never able to identify the suspected killer. Until now

Beginning in 2022, authorities re-analyzed DNA samples from the crime scene using forensic genetic genealogy technology and, on Thursday, publicly identified the suspect as Ronney James Lee.

Lee, who was 21 at the time of the Kempton’s death, died of acute cocaine intoxication at the age of 45 on Feb. 9, 2005. If he were still alive, New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella said he would have charged Lee with first-degree murder for knowingly causing her death in connection with sexual assault.

“It is my hope that this conclusion and announcement will be the long-awaited first step in providing what closure the criminal justice system can provide for Laura Kempton’s family and community,” Formella said. “The Portsmouth Police Department should be commended for its commitment and perseverance in seeking justice for Ms. Kempton and her family.”

Formella said during a press briefing Thursday that the case has been officially closed and marked as solved, and noted the news may be “bittersweet” for Kempton’s family.