Law enforcement say they know who sexually assaulted and killed 16-year-old Margaret “Peggy” Beck in her Girl Scouts tent in 1963, but they don’t know where the suspect is or if he’s even still alive.
Advances in DNA technology allowed Jefferson County investigators to crack the 56-year-old cold case and identify James Raymond Taylor as a suspect in Beck’s killing.
Investigators believe the case is the oldest to ever be solved using genealogical testing where DNA found at the scene is compared to more than a million samples in a public database. The process allows investigators to find people who might be related to a suspect and narrow their search.
That’s exactly how investigators pinpointed Taylor as a suspect. His family has cooperated, Investigator Elias Alberti said Thursday. But they hadn’t seen Taylor since the 1970s. Taylor, who would be 80 years old now, was last known to be in Las Vegas in 1976, Alberti said.
“We have spent several months searching for James Taylor, with no luck,” Alberti said. “We have no idea where he’s at.”
Investigators aren’t sure whether Taylor knew Beck, or how he came to the Girl Scouts camp.
Beck was a student at Denver’s North High School and lived with her parents and three sisters in Edgewater. She joined the Girl Scouts when she was 9 years old and was thrilled to be a counselor at the Flying G Ranch Girl Scouts Camp near Deckers in the summer of 1963, Alberti said.
Taylor also lived in Edgewater in the early 1960s and worked as a TV repairman. He was married at the time. It’s possible that Taylor knew of the Girl Scouts camp because he went in the area to test HAM radios that he built, Alberti said.
Nobody heard or saw anything the night Beck was killed in her tent, Alberti said. Beck’s tentmate was ill and in the infirmary that night, so Beck was sleeping alone. The tentmate discovered Beck’s body the following morning when Beck didn’t show up for breakfast.
An extensive investigation at the time did not reveal a suspect, Alberti said.
Law enforcement collected scrapings from under Beck’s fingernails and submitted them for DNA testing, according to previous Denver Post reporting. Investigators created a DNA profile from the evidence in 2007 and submitted it to a national database, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
A more comprehensive DNA profile was created in June 2019, and investigators were able to identify the suspect through genealogical research by partnering with Denver-based United Data Connect.
Colorado law enforcement have solved several other cold cases using similar tactics, including the 1981 killing of a teenage hitchhiker and the 1980 stabbing of a college student.
Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Shrader read a statement Thursday from Beck’s three sisters, who are still living,
“Peggy was a beautiful young girl who loved life,” the statement read. “She was loving and protective of her family and we will cherish our memories of her forever.”
If anyone has information about Taylor, they are urged to call the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office tip line at (303) 271-5612 or Metro Denver Crime Stoppers at (720) 913-7867 and are asked to reference case 63-10335.
“Nothing would give us greater pleasure than to actually put handcuffs on James Taylor,” Shrader said.
Original article from the The Denver Post