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DNA testing leads to arrest in 1987 Pinellas County cold case

Detectives have been conducting an extensive investigation over a period of several years, the sheriff's office said.

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — A 55-year-old man living in Mississippi is facing a murder charge for the death of a Pinellas County woman that dates back to 1987.

Michael Lapniewski was developed as a suspect after advancement in DNA testing, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said in a news release. Detectives have been conducting an extensive investigation over a period of several years. 

Pinellas County detectives say on Feb. 9, 1987, deputies responded to a home near 56th Avenue North and 48th Street North in unincorporated St. Petersburg where 82-year-old Opal Weil was found dead by her sister-in-law after not answering her telephone.

The sheriff's office has on record that Weil sustained visible signs of trauma. At the time of the murder, deputies learned that her killer fled the area prior to their arrival.

Through investigating, detectives found that the suspect got into Weil's home after removing a single windowpane and entering the Florida room of the residence. They also noticed that the phone line to the residence had been cut, the sheriff's office said. 

Forensic technicians collected evidence including several hairs at the scene and while an investigation was developed, a partial DNA profile was created from the hairs. However, no matches were identified until recently, authorities said.

In December 2020, Pinellas County detectives cold case detectives were assigned to the case and requested additional testing of the collected hairs to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Further genealogical testing was also requested.

"After extensive testing was done by Parabon Nanolabs, family trees were constructed, and familial relatives were identified," the sheriff's office said. "Of the relatives identified, Parabon Nanolabs were able to narrow down the suspects to three possible males."

After extensive investigation, detectives narrowed down the primary suspect to Lapniewski who lived a half-mile from Weil at the time of the murder in 1987. 

"Through various investigative techniques, detectives obtained Lapniewski's DNA, which was submitted to the FDLE for analysis," authorities said. "Detectives learned the DNA profile obtained by detectives from Lapniewski matched the profile developed from the evidence at the scene."

Lapniewski who resides in Waveland, Mississippi, was arrested on Jan. 26 and extradited to Pinellas County where he faces a first-degree murder charge.

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