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Police may have cracked a 1975 killing — by digging through trash

David Sinopoli. (Photo courtesy of Lancaster, Pa., District Attorney's Office)
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David Sinopoli sat at an airport coffee shop with his wife and another couple before sunrise on a February morning, passing time while waiting for their early morning flight.

Unbeknown to the 68-year-old Pennsylvania man, detectives were watching. And after he tossed a coffee cup into a trash bin at Philadelphia International Airport’s Terminal A, they rushed to retrieve it.

For almost five decades, the killing of 19-year-old Lindy Sue Biechler — a newlywed found stabbed to death on the floor of her Lancaster County, Pa., apartment — had stumped authorities. They’d chased scores of tips, interviewed as many as 300 people, launched a task force, presented the case to crime experts and, as the years dragged on without answers, even tried consulting psychics.

What finally led to an arrest in the county’s oldest cold case was the discarded coffee cup — and genetic genealogy. Investigators zeroed in on Sinopoli after a researcher at Reston, Va.-based Parabon NanoLabs determined through DNA evidence that whoever killed Biechler probably had ancestors from a small Italian town called Gasperina. The researcher, CeCe Moore, flagged Sinopoli as a person of interest after poring over newspaper archives and historical records.

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After the detectives’ stealth mission at the airport, DNA from the coffee cup was compared against DNA found on Biechler’s underwear. It was a match, Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams said. Authorities made their long-awaited arrest Sunday morning; Sinopoli, a onetime resident of Biechler’s apartment complex, was taken into custody and was being held without bail.

“This case was solved with the use of DNA and, specifically, DNA genealogy,” Adams said during a Monday news conference. “And quite honestly, without that, I don’t know that we would have ever solved it.”

She added: “The reality is that David Sinopoli was not on our radar.”

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The gruesome killing happened the evening of Dec. 5, 1975, a Friday. Biechler’s aunt and uncle had stopped by her Manor Township apartment to exchange recipes. But when they arrived at the building, they found what Adams said “can only be described as a horrific scene.” Biechler lay on the living room floor, her jeans unbuttoned and her body covered with 19 stab wounds.

Bags of groceries sat on the dining room table. The young wife had been unloading them when her attacker arrived, police said.

She fought fiercely for her life. But Biechler, a flower shop worker described by her husband Phil as “extremely compassionate” and “unbelievably charming,” was pronounced dead at the scene.

From the start, police said, there were few clues.

“We actually don’t have a thing at this time,” Manor Township Police Chief Donald W. Sheeler said on the day Biechler was buried, according to the Intelligencer Journal.

Authorities cleared suspects, reviewed a chilling letter from someone claiming to be the killer, pleaded with the public for help and investigated leads before the case went cold. They revisited the case in the years that followed, submitting evidence for DNA analysis in 1997 and entering it into a national database in 2000.

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That year, a task force that included the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit dug into the case, the Lancaster New Era reported. The group said the killer was probably a man who knew Biechler and committed the crime in a fit of rage. Five years later, a group of criminal experts called the Vidocq Society decided to review the case.

“I have prayed every single night for 30 years that there will be justice for her death,” Biechler’s mother, Eleanor Geesey, told Lancaster Online. “My God, maybe it will come.”

Yet it would be years before DNA genealogy, a new technique that went mainstream with the 2018 arrest of the “Golden State Killer,” cracked the case open and led to Sinopoli’s arrest. Moore said Monday that her research into the killer’s genealogy pointed to Sinopoli as “an especially compelling candidate to be the suspect.”

“There were very few people living in Lancaster that were the right age, gender and had the right family tree,” she said.

None of the tips that came into law enforcement over the years pointed to Sinopoli, Adams said. She said he lived in the same four-unit building as Biechler at one point in 1974. But she declined to provide other details on whether they knew each other or discuss a potential motive.

Few details were immediately available about Sinopoli or his life before or after the brutal killing. A former pressman at a commercial printing company, he was a hunter whose Facebook page showed him hunting and vacationing in Italy, LNP reported. He married his first wife the year before Biechler’s death; they had two children before divorcing in 1986, according to the paper. In 1987, he married his second wife, with whom he had another child.

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In 2004, he was sentenced to a year of probation after pleading guilty to invasion of privacy and disorderly conduct. He had admitted spying on a woman who was naked in a tanning room at a business where he worked, according to LNP.

That appeared to be his only criminal arrest in Lancaster County before Sunday. He now faces a homicide charge.

“Lindy Sue Biechler was 19 when her life was brutally taken away from her 46 years ago in the sanctity of her own home,” Adams said. “The arrest of David Sinopoli marks the beginning of the court process. And we hope that it brings some sense of relief to the victim’s loved ones and to the community, who for the past 46 years have had no answers.”

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