November 28, 2022

How A Hot Dog Napkin Identified A 1993 Cold Case Killer

When it comes to cold cases, oftentimes investigators just need one tiny new piece of evidence to crack things wide open. That’s just what happened with one murder case in Minnesota, when a napkin from a hot dog was used to convict a killer (via Oxygen).

Jeanne “Jeanie” Childs was 35 years old when she was murdered on June 13, 1993 in Minneapolis, Minnesota (per Bring Me the News). The scene was discovered after people in an apartment building complained about water leaking through the ceiling. When someone went to check on the leak, they discovered a shower had been left running and the occupant of the apartment, Childs, had been brutally stabbed to death (via Law and Crime).

The murder was gruesome, with Childs suffering 65 stab wounds, including a stab wound straight to the heart, per Oxygen. Blood was spread around the apartment, including in both the bedroom and bathroom, indicating that Childs was killed slowly between multiple rooms. Childs’ body showed evidence of defensive wounds, per CBS.

The initial investigation

Unfortunately, when police first found Childs’ body, they didn’t have many leads to go on, according to Oxygen. There was ample physical evidence at the scene, including DNA from the killer, semen, and even footprints that had been left in Childs’ blood. But in the 1990s, before DNA testing became widespread, it wasn’t easy to connect this evidence to a suspect.

Moreover, Childs was a sex worker, which meant that her killer could have been a client — someone she might not have any on-paper connections to. Few new leads came in, too, as at the time of the murder, the news media didn’t really give the case much coverage, Oxygen reports.

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In fact, it wasn’t until the case was reopened in 2015 that there seemed hope that the murder would finally be solved. In 2018, investigators using online genealogy programs were able to find close matches to the killer. From there, they were able to identify a potential suspect: a businessman named Jerry Westrom (above).

A hot dog napkin provides a new lead

Investigators didn’t want to tip Westrom off that they were on to him, so they decided to try to get his DNA without his knowledge (per Law and Crime). After following Westrom to a hockey game, they were able to get ahold of a napkin that Westrom used to wipe his mouth after eating a hot dog. When they checked the DNA on the napkin against that found at the scene of Childs’ murder, they found it was a match.

Westrom was arrested, and other evidence was quickly found to line up, too. Westrom’s footprint, for instance, matched the footprint found in the blood, per Bring Me the News. And though Westrom had previously not been on the radar for Childs’ case, he had previously been arrested for solicitation, according to Oxygen. He also lived in the Minneapolis area at the time of the killing.

At the murder trial, Westrom’s defense argued that another man, alleged to have been Childs’ procurer, killed her, as his hairs had been found in her hands. However, jurors weren’t convinced and it only took them two hours of deliberation to find Westrom guilty. According to one juror, the evidence was “so overwhelming” it was impossible not to convict him, according to CBS News.