DNA testing gives new hope nearly 40 years after death of woman, nephew

Jeremy Pickens and Lynn Vest (WBNS)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the cold November air, Lynn Vest’s family stands and mourns her loss. Thirty-nine years have passed since the vibrant mother and her nephew were murdered.

“You just wonder all the time, why would someone take a 2 1/2-year-old's life for no reason? And my sister too,” said Cheryl Button, Jeremy Pickens' mother.

The family has no more answers today than they did in November 1980.

“Cared for other people. Pretty easy going. Didn't have a temper like I do, I guess,” said Don Hochuli, Lynn’s father.

Family gathers to remember Lynn Vest. (WBNS)

Hochuli, a retired Columbus police officer, spent a career chasing down criminals.

“It's always the other person. The next thing you know, it's you,” Hochuli said.

From his easy chair, he glances at the memorial wall of his daughter and grandson, wondering what pictures could be hanging up.

“With my grandson Jeremy, I wonder what he would be like today. How many kids would he have? He'd be married. I think about that, and always will,” Hochuli said.

Lynn left her 1-year-old son at home and took her nephew for what was supposed to be a quick shopping trip. Several hours passed, and there was still no word on where the two could be.

“Knowing my daughter, I immediately called the juvenile bureau who handled the missing persons cases and started a police report on it,” Hochuli said.

Hochuli told coworkers he knew in his gut something was wrong, and they needed to start looking for his family.

“About 11:30 that night at their house, we get — the sergeant and a good buddy of mine who is a police officer came down — they notified us they found her car. She'd been strangled, he'd been suffocated,” Hochuli said.

Officers found Lynn's new Mustang Cobra parked on the corner of Berkely Road and East Main Street. At the time, there were no security cameras, and few witnesses.

Hochuli said they didn’t have much evidence to go off of.

“They didn't have DNA at the time," he said.

But that has changed.

“I'm looking at DNA. The DNA sample — we turn it into a data file. We look to see who is related to that DNA sample... We look to piece that family group together,” said Amanda Reno with AdvanceDNA.

While many use DNA testing to find out more about where their family came from, the family is hoping to use DNA collected at the crime scene to try and match it to someone related to the killer.

“I would just like one thing to go on to move forward,” said Detective Bill Gillette.

This is the first time Columbus police are using the advanced testing.

“We're hoping by using that big, much larger pool, that we'll be able to get some information that can lead us back to the suspects,” said Sergeant Terry McConnell with Columbus police.

While Reno admits it's kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack, she says it is worth it if they can finally bring the family some answers.

“Being able to know that the victims, their families and the community is benefiting from the work we do, is priceless,” Reno said.

For Lynn and Jeremy's family, they hope by the time they are back for the next anniversary, they have answers.

“You always have hope,” Hochuli said.