1988 Homicide Victim Vernon Hart Kendrick
Sheriff Bill Brown Anounces Arrest in 1988 Cold Case Homicide
Larry Lon Lee, 52
Sheriff's Investigators Make Arrest in 1988 Homicide Case
Santa Barbara - September 1st, 2016
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office has made an arrest in a 28-year-old homicide case. This morning, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s detectives interviewed an inmate at the Sarasota County Jail in Sarasota, Florida for the 1988 murder of 46-year-old Vernon Hart Kendrick of Montecito. The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office subsequently served 52-year-old Larry Lon Lee with an arrest warrant obtained by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office. The arrest followed a cold case investigation coupled with DNA evidence that linked Lee to the murder.
At a press conference today, September 1, 2016, held at Sheriff’s Office headquarters in Santa Barbara, Sheriff Bill Brown expressed his heartfelt sympathies to the family and friends of Vernon Kendrick. He said, “All efforts so far made by members of the Sheriff’s Office to contact his family have been unsuccessful. However, we were able to notify a long-time family friend. We will continue to attempt to locate any living relatives.”
On July 1, 1988, Kendrick’s employer requested law enforcement conduct a check the welfare call at Kendrick’s studio apartment where he lived alone in the 100 block of Olive Mill Road. The employer of the furniture sales company had not heard from Kendrick and said it was uncharacteristic of him not to check in on a daily basis.
At approximately 1:45 p.m. a Santa Barbara Police Department (SBPD) officer who was assisting the Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene. The SBPD officer contacted the property owner who said that she had not seen Kendrick in several days. When the Santa Barbara Police Department officer entered the apartment, he found a deceased male inside. Sheriff’s detectives with the Coroner’s Office and the Criminal Investigations Division responded and discovered the victim had been killed by blunt force trauma. The decedent was identified as Vernon Kendrick.
The Sheriff’s Office launched a homicide investigation and forensics personnel processed the scene for all evidence related to the case. Through the course of the investigation, Sheriff’s detectives learned the last time Kendrick had been seen alive was leaving The Palace restaurant in Santa Barbara with a male adult possibly from Florida. Sheriff’s detectives developed a person of interest, but despite all investigative means were not able to identify that person. As all leads were exhausted, the case became what is commonly called a “cold case”, or an open, unsolved homicide.
As time and resources were available, investigators assigned to the cold case would review the case and evidence. The investigators would look at the information and evidence not only with a fresh set of eyes, but with the advent of new technology available.
In June of 2010, a Sheriff’s cold case detective submitted critical evidence from the crime scene to the California Department of Justice Crime Lab to conduct a search for DNA evidence. The lab identified not only the victim’s DNA, but a DNA profile belonging to an unknown male. The DNA profile was entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).
On August 18, 2016, the DOJ Crime Lab reported to the Sheriff’s Office a potential DNA match with Larry Lee who was in custody in Sarasota County on theft-related charges. Sheriff’s detectives with the assistance of the Sheriff’s Forensics Bureau conducted further investigation and found more evidence linking Lee to Kendrick’s murder. The Sheriff’s Office has requested the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office charge Lee with the 1988 murder of Kendrick.
Lee has an extensive criminal history of theft and narcotics related arrests in several states including California and Florida. Lee was most recently arrested in Manatee County on July 12, 2016 for an outstanding warrant and was transferred to the Sarasota County Jail on July 18, 2016. Once Lee’s pending Florida criminal case has been resolved, the Sheriff’s Office will seek his extradition back to Santa Barbara County to face the murder charge.
At the press conference today, Sheriff Brown thanked the many groups who were a part of identifying, locating and arresting the suspect. He said, “We would not be here today if it had not been for the professionalism and fine work done by the original Sheriff’s detectives and crime scene technicians who meticulously processed the scene, ultimately collecting trace DNA evidence which proved to be pivotal in solving this case. I also want to commend and recognize the cold case detectives over the years, who refused to give up on this case and other cold cases. This case is a great example of how we consider a murder case to never be closed until a suspect is identified and brought to justice. It also shows the importance of dedicating precious resources to cold case investigations.”
Sheriff Brown also thanked the Department of Justice Crime Lab and their criminalists for their expertise and training, which continues to help close cases that would otherwise never be solved. He also thanked the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office for their superb cooperation and assistance with the investigation.
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