Sarasota police solve 1985 murder case

Denise Marie Stafford's murder has been solved.
Denise Marie Stafford's murder has been solved.(Sarasota PD)
Published: Aug. 11, 2021 at 10:44 AM EDT
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - A 1985 murder case that had stymied police has been solved, thanks to DNA evidence and persistent detective work, the Sarasota Police Department announced Wednesday.

Denise Marie Stafford, 28, was found dead Oct. 13, 1985, at her home on Tarpon Avenue. At the time, the police believed Stafford was home with her child when she was murdered.

In March 2020, retired detective Jeff Birdwell, in cooperation with Sarasota police, began to look at old evidence to see what could be retested, given advances in technology since the crime was committed. Evidence collected in 1985, included the pants Stafford was wearing, was sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab and other labs for analysis.

The new DNA technology, Birdwell said, allowed technicians to collect DNA from locations on the victim’s clothing.

Last month, FDLE notified Birdwell about a DNA match to Joseph Magaletti, who died in prison in 2015 while serving a life sentence for the murder of Sarasota nurse Kathleen Leonard in 1995, court records show. Magaletti was a person on interest in the Stafford’s murder, but was never developed as a suspect, Sarasota police say. Magaletti worked at the same lounge as Stafford’s husband, Bidwell said.

Birdwell credited the detectives and technicians who worked on the case. “We’re part of a big groups of people over 35 years to be able to do something to help the family,” he said at a Wednesday news conference at Sarasota Police headquarters.

To other perpetrators, Birdwell said detectives will never give up. “Your time’s coming,” he said.

Investigator Jeff Birdwell speaks at a news conference Wednesday in Sarasota
Investigator Jeff Birdwell speaks at a news conference Wednesday in Sarasota(WWSB-TV)

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