Investigators say they are drawing closer to solving one of the worst crimes in Littleton history, but they are still seeking people with information to come forward.
Advances in DNA and genealogy technology have provided new investigative avenues in the 2002 triple murder of James Springer, Erin Golla and Robert Zajac at the AMF Broadway Lanes bowling alley, Littleton Police Chief Doug Stephens said at a press conference on Feb. 17.
But investigators still need to hear from people with information about the crime, Stephens said, as a significant increase in the Crime Stoppers reward was announced.
Stephens was joined at the press conference by an all-star lineup, including Michael Schneider, who heads the FBI's Denver field office; District Attorney John Kellner, whose district includes Littleton; Mike Mills, who heads Metro Denver Crime Stoppers; and Mitch Morrissey, formerly Denver's district attorney, who now heads United Data Connect, a forensic DNA analysis firm.
“Because there is such a strong sense of community in Littleton, what happens to one is often felt by all,” Stephens said. “We have asked everyone to be here today to call on that sense of community and request your help.”
The three victims were shot to death late on Jan. 27, 2002, Stephens said.
Springer, 29, and Golla, 26, were finishing their shifts at the bowling alley at 5485 S. Broadway, just north of Powers Avenue. A champion bowler and employee of a nearby bowling alley, Robert Zajac, 23, was also present and planning to get a ride home from Springer.
At 11:40 p.m., Golla called a friend to ask for a ride home. When the friend arrived at 11:50 p.m., they saw a young man with a bald head and medium build, wearing a long trench coat, leave the bowling alley and get into a late-model pickup truck before driving away southbound.
The friend entered the bowling alley and found Springer, Golla and Zajac dead in a back room. No arrests have ever been made in the case.
But thanks to new DNA and genealogy technology not available at the time of the crime, investigators have newfound hope in bringing justice to the families of the three victims.
“Investigators are reviewing and retesting evidence, including items from the trash can in the men's room as well as other areas on the property,” Stephens said, adding that some people with information have already come forward.
“Agents and detectives are consistently conducting interviews related to this case,” he said. “We thank those people who have already been interviewed, as we anticipate speaking with you again and appreciate your patience.”
Stephens said people with information in the case are likely still in the community, and said in such cases people “do not come forward due to their close relationship with those who may have been involved, as well as their reputation and standing in the community and among friends. We recognize relationships change over time, as do people and their perspectives. It is not too late to come forward.”
Echoing other speakers at the press conference, Stephens said investigators can make a distinction between those who perpetrated a crime and those roped into it.
“There are times when people are unknowingly brought into a situation by the person responsible,” he said. “Rest assured we have the ability to identify those that were inadvertently involved.”
Schneider, the FBI chief, backed up Stephens.
“The families of James, Erin and Robert are counting on those with information to come forward,” he said. “No piece of information is too small.”
Kellner, the district attorney, said the DNA and genealogy evidence being employed in the investigation is similar to what led to the 2019 arrest and subsequent guilty plea of James Clanton, who killed Helene Pruszynski in Douglas County in 1980, and the 2018 arrest and subsequent guilty pleas of Joseph DeAngelo, the so-called Golden State Killer, in California.
“Those same advances are being brought to bear on this case,” Kellner said. “This is your opportunity. If you know something, if you think you know something, call, step up to the plate to help solve this crime.”
Much of the DNA and genealogy analysis work has been done through a partnership between Crime Stoppers and United Data Connect, Morrissey's forensic DNA analysis firm, Morrissey said.
“We're here as part of this team to provide to provide state-of-the-art DNA-based leads that will solve this case.” Morrissey said. “We've already provided some, and the FBI has followed up on those quickly, and so has the task force. We will continue until we find the individual or individuals responsible.”
The partnership between Crime Stoppers and United Data Connect has already yielded answers in many other cases, Morrissey said, adding he is eager to provide answers in this case.
“My hope is we can give those answers in a time that those individuals in those families are still here to understand and appreciate and get the closure they need,” he said.
Mills, who heads Metro Denver Crime Stoppers, spoke directly to those with information in the case.
“We'll get answers for James, Erin, Robert, and for their families and friends,” Mills said. “There's no question in my mind that with your assistance we'll bring justice … Can you help? Will you help? Are you willing to break your silence, remain anonymous, and help us solve this case?”
Metro Denver Crime Stoppers is offering a reward of up to $30,000 in the murder of Springer, Golla and Zajac. Tipsters can remain anonymous. Call 720-913-7867 or go to MetroDenverCrimeStoppers.com.
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