When Orange County police found missing CSUN student Elaine Graham’s Volkswagen Beetle on March 18, 1983, a day after Graham disappeared, they found inside a baby seat and schoolbooks, authorities said.
They also found what would later prove to be evidence of her death — the driver’s seat was positioned for a person much taller than Graham.
Eight months later, two hikers in the Brown’s Canyon area of Chatsworth discovered Graham’s skeletal remains, authorities said.
Investigators had a suspect in a matter of months, but it took 22 years and some high-tech crime solving, along with old-fashioned detective work, to finally bring murder charges against Edmond Jay Marr, said Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney John Lewin.
On March 14, 2005, Marr, 47, of Cathedral City, pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder in a San Fernando Superior Court. Marr admitted he abducted and used a knife to kill Graham, a nurse with a husband and daughter, Lewin said.
Marr’s plea came just as jury selection was set to begin, and brings an end to the decades-long mystery surrounding Graham’s disappearance and death. Marr will return to court for sentencing today.
In April 2002, the Los Angeles Police Department reinvestigated the case under its Cold Case Homicide Unit, an investigative team that reexamines unsolved homicides from past decades, Lewin said. Together with the District Attorney’s office, they built a case against Marr by utilizing DNA evidence and other modern techniques that were not available when the crime occurred. Police arrested Marr for the murder of Graham on Feb. 10, 2003.
A monumental blunder on Marr’s part in an unrelated crime a month after Graham disappeared helped link Marr to the case.
Westminster police arrested Marr for armed robbery in April 1983.
“He told officers he had a bag around the corner he wanted to pick up,” Lewin said. “The dagger (used to kill Graham) was in it.”
Marr came under suspicion in 1983 after investigators received a tip from a friend of Marr’s sister, who said Marr’s sister thought her brother might be involved in Graham’s disappearance, Lewin said.
Initial tests found human blood on the knife that was consistent with Graham’s blood type, Lewin said. But since millions of people share the same blood types, it was not enough to charge Marr with a crime, although eventually, investigators connected Marr to all the critical locations involved in Graham’s death, Lewin said.
Marr was in Northridge visiting his mother the day Graham disappeared. The next day, he showed up at the home of his sister in Orange County, just six blocks from where the car was found abandoned. And after Graham’s remains were discovered in Brown’s Canyon, police were able to connect Marr to that location as well, Lewin said.
Marr denied any involvement in Graham’s disappearance and murder.
In March 1984, LAPD detectives brought their evidence against Marr to the District Attorney’s Office, but the district attorney determined there was not enough (evidence) to prosecute.
“(The response was), ‘Wait until there are advances in forensics,'” said Sandi Gibbons, district attorney spokesperson.
The 29-year-old Graham was last seen dropping her 2-year-old daughter off at a babysitter’s in Northridge on Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1983. According to Lewin, Graham was abducted in a CSUN parking lot that morning.
“She was kidnapped from school by gunpoint,” Lewin said. “The defendant made her drive to the canyon and walk (through the canyon) 1,500 feet.”
Marr forced Graham to remove her blouse, and although tests on the skeletal remains were unable to prove he sexually assaulted her, Lewin suspects he did.
Marr then stabbed Graham to death, Lewin said.
Lewin is empathetic to Graham’s last moments and what she must have been thinking as she was forced to drive to the canyon and walk a long distance.
“That must have been tough for her,” Lewin said.
Once the case was reexamined, Lewin wanted to make sure he did right by Graham.
“As soon as I was looking at it, I was blown away how much evidence there was,” Lewin said. He dedicated himself to getting a conviction.
Lewin said CCHU detectives, lead by Rick Jackson and Tim Marcia, used everything from wiretaps, simulations, forensic anthropological examinations, aerospace high-tech testing and DNA work to solve the case.
“This is a circumstantial case,” Lewin said. “There is no one thing (that proves Marr’s guilt). There are 25 things.”
The blood on the murder weapon deteriorated in the years since the crime, so investigators had to reconstruct Graham’s DNA by getting samples from her family members, creating a “partial profile,” Lewin said.
“We didn’t have a direct hit,” he said.
They had enough to get Marr to plead guilty.
Second-degree murder carries a sentence of 16-years-to-life, the same as first-degree murder, Lewin said. The difference is how soon a defendant gets a parole hearing.
Lewin said Marr had been kicked out of the Army on March 16, 1983, the day before the murder, and according to his mother, was very upset about it. Marr’s father served in the military, and died a hero in a military plane crash on March 16, 1962, Lewin said.
“Twenty-one years to the day that his father had been killed (Marr was kicked out of the Army),” Lewin said. “I think it was something he was deeply ashamed of.”
As he worked on the case, Lewin said he got to know Graham’s husband, Dr. Stephen Graham, and other family members. Graham’s daughter, Elyse, is now 24. To help bring the family closure was “extremely satisfying,” Lewin said.
Lewin said through it all, he got to know Elaine Graham as well.
“She was a really special person,” Lewin said. “It’s a real loss.”