On a Sunday evening 25 years ago, someone walked into a country store north of Washington and brutally killed the friendly owner.
The attacker left behind a telling clue: drops of blood.
Forensic technicians extracted a DNA profile. Detectives submitted the profile to databases containing profiles of offenders nationwide. No matches.
Closer to home, they compared the profile with DNA samples taken from about 20 suspects they’d developed. No matches.
Now, taking advantage of a new technology that uses DNA details to create a drawing of what the possible killer looked like, detectives remain ever hopeful that they will finally solve the case.
“This will help us narrow things down,” said Montgomery County Detective Mark Janney.
On Monday, officials released a composite drawing of the possible killer based on the DNA information.
The man almost certainly had black hair, brown eyes and skin that was light brown to brown, according to the analysis, performed by Parabon NanoLabs, based in Reston, Va.
There is little to no chance he had freckles.
And in appearance, the suspect may have looked Mayan or Native American, based on his facial shape, his pigmentation and that his ancestors probably were indigenous to the middle of the Western Hemisphere — a swath from Mexico to the central area of South America.
Detectives note that based on the era and area of the crime, the man’s appearance might have made him stand out.
The killing occurred March 22, 1992, at the Sugarloaf Mountain Market in the community of Comus, in northern Montgomery County about three miles west of Interstate 270.
Janney said that before hiring the DNA company, he and colleagues had been following what appeared to be solid leads for white male suspects. He still is not ruling that prospect out and said such a person may have been working with a darker-skinned person.
He has long thought the suspect or suspects in the crime were familiar with the work and closing habits of the store owner, James Kweku Essel. “Clearly, it was somebody who’d done some casing of the store,” he said last year.
The killer or killers walked into the store around 5:30 p.m., bought items and for unknown reasons attacked Essel — stabbing him more than 20 times. Essel appears to have fought back, and an assailant was cut in the process.
Essel immigrated to the United States from Ghana around 1959. He opened an African restaurant called Warababa on Kennedy Street NW in the District. Essel also held branch-manager positions at banks in Washington.
After he retired from banking, Essel wanted the serenity he’d had as a child growing up near the ocean in Ghana. He purchased the store in the small community.
Essel was known for letting customers buy items on credit if needed and was called James, Jim or Kweku by friends. He was well liked among his regular shoppers, who could come in for conversations and groceries.
“He loved people,” his oldest daughter, Evangeline Raphael, said in an interview last year.
She often worked with her father in the store. The night of his killing, she was supposed to work there but called him to say it was snowing and she didn’t feel well. She wasn’t coming in.
She recalled how her father had told her to turn over the money if there ever was a robbery. “It’s not worth your life,” he had said.
The area around the murder — near Sugarloaf Mountain — has many residents who remain intensely interested in the case and seeing it solved. Janney said he hopes the composite image may jog someone’s memory.
Police are asking anyone with information about this case to contact Janney, a detective in the cold-case unit, at 240-773-5091, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: An earlier version of this article had an incorrect date for the 1992 killing. It took place March 22, not May 22.