Richmond police identify suspect in 1999 cold case murder

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Richmond police announced today that recently obtained DNA evidence has confirmed a suspect in the 22-year-old cold case murder of 26-year-old Meekia Wadley, although the suspect died 11 days after the homicide.

Recent DNA evidence collected from fingernail clippings helped connect the late Jerry Lee Henderson to the murder, police said.

The morning of Jan. 9, 1999, police were called to a home in the 1300 block of Carlson Boulevard after a nearby neighbor reported hearing screaming coming from the residence. When the neighbor went to the home and knocked on the front door, the screaming continued for about 30 seconds, prompting the neighbor to return to his apartment and call police.

Police found Wadley in the house deceased on the floor in her bedroom. Her hands were bound together with shoelaces and a buck knife was located under her body, police said. An autopsy revealed her cause of death was asphyxia due to smothering.

The initial investigation focused on a man with whom she’d spent the previous evening, but that person was ruled out as a suspect. A variety of DNA testing was conducted in the years after the homicide. In 2020, additional DNA testing was requested that focused on previously untested fingernail clippings and ligatures.

The tests unearthed a male DNA profile in Wadley’s fingernail clippings. The results were submitted to the California Department of Justice’s DNA Data Bank Program to conduct a familial search of the State DNA Index System.

Early last year, the California DOJ provided a list of male relatives that had potential to be the suspect, with a large focus on Jerry Lee Henderson, who died from a suspected overdose in Richmond 11 days after the murder, although an official cause of death was undetermined.

So investigators began searching for an immediate relative of Henderson’s, who they found in September of last year. A buccal swab was obtained from that person and sent to the Contra Costa County Crime Lab. Soon after, the Lab notified Richmond police that the swab from the relative confirmed Henderson’s DNA matched the fingernail clippings obtained from Wadley, “therefore providing sufficient evidence to show Jerry Henderson was the person responsible for her murder,” police said.

“It is my hope that this news brings needed closure to all those who knew and loved Meekiah Wadley,” said Acting Richmond police chief Louie Tirona. “I wish to recognize the tireless efforts made by the members of the Richmond Police Department and our law enforcement partners in ensuring that our commitment to the pursuit of justice remains our highest priority.”

Correction: The initial story mistakenly stated that the suspect Jerry Lee Henderson was related to Meekia Wadley. He was not. In addition, the initial story provided an incorrect street name for home where the murder occurred. The story has been updated with these corrections.