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40-year-old Prescott cold case solved with DNA

DNA testing of evidence from Michael E. Lee's murder scene identifies killers after decades.
Credit: Yavapai County Sheriff's Office

PRESCOTT, Ariz. — It was a case that was solved by cigarette butts. 

Michael E. Lee, 29, was found shot to death in Yavapai County off Arizona 179 near milepost 300 outside Prescott in 1980. Though evidence was found at the scene, officials were unable to identify the parties responsible. 

In June of 2018, a Yavapai County Sheriff's Office Cold Case volunteer, alongside Detective John McDormett, reexamined the case and sent the cigarette butts found with Lee's body to the Department of Public Safety for DNA testing. 

The DNA on two of the butts --  and some circumstantial evidence -- belonged to David Ellsworth Widmer, YCSO said. Widmer had an extensive criminal history which tied him to Rocky Crabtree in an unrelated 1980 Phoenix PD report. Crabtree was named on the original persons of interest list, but nothing had ever come of it. 

The investigation concluded that both men knew Lee and that the primary motive was robbery. They were told that Lee kept a substantial amount of money in a bandana on his leg, but neglected to check the wallet in his pocket which contained more than $1,000. Widmer and Crabtree were suspected to also have taken marijuana from Lee's possession. 

Both Widmer and Crabtree were convicted felons and died before the conclusion of the investigation. Widmer died within a year of the case reopening. 

Lee's family members have been notified of the findings after decades with no leads. 

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