DNA evidence leads police to college student's killer nearly 50 years after slaying

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – It’s taken nearly 50 years, but police believe they know who killed an Indiana State student.

On Monday, Terre Haute Police Chief Shawn Keen announced the resolution of the case involving ISU student Pamela Milam, who was murdered in September 1972.

The case has gone unsolved for decades, but Keen determined that her killer was a man named Jeffrey Lynn Hand through dogged research and advancements in DNA testing, according to WXIN.

Milam’s body was found in the trunk of her car on Sept. 16, 1972. The 19-year-old was a commuter student at ISU and failed to return home Friday night. Her sister and father searched the campus and located her car. She was found in the truck bound and gagged. An autopsy found she died of strangulation. She also had wounds to her head and face.

Hand would have been in his early 20s at the time of Milam’s death. He had a violent criminal past that included murder and an attempted abduction.

Keen said the original investigators in the case did a commendable job of preserving evidence. However, due to limitations of the technology of their time, they were never able to solve it.

It didn’t help that police thought for years that a man named Robert Wayne Austin killed Milam. He was arrested in a separate case and was later released from prison. He denied involvement in the abduction and killing of Milam and DNA tests ruled him out as a suspect in 2001.

Key evidence in the case included spools of clothesline, Milam’s eyeglasses, rolls of duct tape and DNA from Milam's blouse, Keen said. Some of those items, including the clothesline and duct tape, had been used to put up decorations for parties Milam attended on the night of her disappearance.

In 2008, Keen looked further into the case. He reexamined 56 male associates of Milam. However, he only had names and phone numbers. He obtained subpoenas and ran their names to see if any of them had been in trouble. There were a couple of leads but nothing solid, Keen said.

Additional DNA resting on the clothesline matched a DNA sample taken from Milam’s blouse. The DNA didn’t match any profiles in the system. Further DNA testing allowed police to develop a composite profile of the killer. Keen went through 1,100 arrest records by hand to eliminate certain suspects and got it down to about 106 people.

But it turned out the original composite was faulty. Keen thought he was back to square one until he had genetic testing firm Parabon NanoLabs check the sample, which traced back to a family member in Washington, Indiana. He worked through the family tree until he found a possible match of a relative in the right age range.

That’s how they came across Jeffrey Lynn Hand, who had a criminal history. He’d once picked up a pair of hitchhikers, killing a man and kidnapping his wife. Hand was later found not guilty by reason of insanity; due to complications with the case and its multi-county nature, he was set free in 1976.

He later tried to abduct a woman in Kokomo and died in a shootout with police in 1978, Keen said.

Hand lived in Terre Haute in 1970 and 1971, police later found out. In 1972, the year Milam was killed, he worked for a record company out of Illinois and made deliveries to different cities.

To prove Hand was Milam’s killer, investigators ran a “reverse paternity” test using DNA from his sons and comparing it to the DNA sample from the Milam case. The test showed with 99.99% probability that the person from the DNA profile was the father of Hand’s two children.

Keen said that had Hand been alive today, he and prosecutors believed they had enough evidence to charge him.