34 years later, DNA technology heats up cold case

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) — For 34 years — the green bay police department worked to find out what had happened to 22-year-old Lisa Holstead.

The young mother was found dead just an hour after she was reported missing.

From there, the case slowed significantly, until October 2020.

“These cases are never closed,” Green Bay Police Chief Andrew Smith said in the days following Lou Archie Griffin’s arrest. “We never give up. The reason why we’re able to solve this case was through forensics, genetic genealogy.”

Local 5 sat down with Detective David Graf to discuss the breakthrough.

“I’ve always been aware of this case,” Detective Graf said. “Sometimes in my downtime I’d look at past cold cases.

Detective Graf says DNA was the key to solving the case.

“I was lucky in this case that it was well-preserved and there was enough of the DNA to have it tested several times,” he explained.

The police did find and preserve DNA found on Lisa’s body back in 1986, but they never were able to match it to anyone.

“In Wisconsin now, if you’re currently arrested for a crime, at least for a felony, just like your fingerprints and your picture, they take a sample of your DNA,” the detective said.

Griffin is a felon, but his felony arrest took place in 1981, before police started collecting DNA.

Local 5 spoke with Joe Lefevre, Department Chair of Forensic Science at Fox Valley Techinical College about the use of DNA technology by police.

“The problem is we don’t have a lot of people in our DNA database,” he explained, “so, you know, on tv shows it always seems like they get that droplet of blood, they get that, hair, fiber, whatever, and it matches to somebody instantly.”

Lefevre told Local 5 that in real life, that’s often not the case.

Still, it’s important for police officers to learn how to properly collect and store DNA evidence.

“If we’re storing it properly at the police department and we’re taking our safeguards to make sure it doesn’t get contaminated or anything, it’s gonna be viable for as long as anyone that’s involved with the case is going to be alive,” Lefevre explained.

In this case, DNA left behind was kept safe until genetic geneaology helped police find a match.

“You use open source databases out there that any citizen can access. You know, you’ve heard of ancestry.Com and 23&Me,” Detective Graf explained.

Those specific sites require a subscription.

Detectives use free databases to try to find possible DNA matches.

They end up with a list of people who might be related to the suspect.

From there, “it’s your typical, boots on the ground, knock on doors, interviews, look for additional evidence, look for witnesses,” Detective Graf said.

All that lead investigators to Griffin, who had been released on parole after serving a prison sentence for Second-Degree Sexual Assault of a Child in May 1986.

At the time of lisa’s murder, he was living in Green Bay.

In the fall of 2020, police began watching griffin at his home in Racine.

They were able to collect DNA from beer cans and a cigarette butt he threw out.

That DNA matched the DNA found on Lisa’s body.

“Our detectives, accompanied by federal agents and state agents and local agents arrested Mr. Griffin,” Chief Smith said.

Griffin has been charged with one count of First Degree Intentional Homicide.

He was bound over for trial.

“I do this for several reasons,” Detective Graf said, “but one of the main reasons is to get answers for the family and to get justice for the victim and hold the person responsible.”

Local 5 has reached out to Lisa’s family.

They say they’re waiting until the case is over to comment.