Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office Teams with Othram to Identify the Suspect in a 1983 Homicide

After 40 years, the person responsible for the 1983 murder of Gayla McNeil has been identified as James Henderson, born October 24, 1948.

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Published April 23, 2024 by Michael Vogen
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In October 1983, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office (PBSO) responded to an incident at a canal west of Atlantic Boulevard near the intersection of US 441 and Acme Dairy Road in Palm Beach County, Florida. In the canal, investigators located the body of a deceased white female. The woman's body was discovered nude with a belt tied around her neck, and her throat had been cut. The Palm Beach County Medical Examiner determined that the woman was a victim of sexual battery and that she had been murdered.

Four days later on October 25, 1983, the woman was identified as thirty-year-old Gayla Ann McNeil of Cocoa Beach, Florida. Investigators launched an investigation to identify the person responsible for McNeil’s death. Investigators learned that McNeil was walking south from coastal Brevard County, Florida to an unknown location in South Florida. On October 19, 1983, McNeil was stopped by police north of Palm Beach in Stuart, Florida. The next day, an officer with the Lake Worth Police Department questioned McNeil and reported that she was attempting to flag down cars on US Highway 1 in Lake Worth. Gayla reported that she was from Cocoa and was headed to Fort Lauderdale.

Gayla was last seen wearing blue jeans, a beige flannel shirt, and a brown sweatband around her head. She was carrying a clear plastic bag with clothing and a brown cutting board. Described as having a slender build, McNeil stood approximately 5'9" tall and weighed only around 100 pounds. She had medium length, dark brown hair.

Although forensic DNA technology did not exist at the time of McNeil’s murder, DNA evidence was collected at the scene of the crime and preserved for future testing. Throughout the course of the investigation, DNA technology was developed. In 2000, DNA from the crime scene was analyzed and an STR profile was developed and entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a consortium of local, state, and national databases of DNA profiles from convicted offenders, unsolved crime scene evidence, and missing persons. There were no matches detected in the CODIS search. With all leads exhausted, a suspect was not identified, and the case remained cold.

In January 2023, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office once again teamed with Othram to determine if advanced DNA testing could help generate new leads in the case. Most recently, PBSO identified a 1987 Jane Doe as Pati Lisa Loguercio Rust using leads developed by Othram. Forensic DNA evidence from the crime was sent to Othram’s laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to develop a comprehensive genealogical profile from the DNA of the unknown male suspect. Othram's in-house forensic genetic genealogy team used the profile to produce new investigative leads, which were provided to PBSO detectives.

Using these leads, PBSO detectives launched an investigation aimed at finally identifying the unknown suspect. This investigation led to relatives of the possible suspect. These relatives provided reference DNA samples that were compared with the male suspect DNA collected from the crime scene in 1983. Results of the comparison confirmed the identity of the suspect in Gayla Ann McNeil’s murderer as James Henderson, born October 24, 1948. Henderson resided at 421 Alegra Avenue in West Palm Beach, Florida. He worked as a mechanic in West Palm Beach and worked on Florida Power and Light Trucks. Henderson died November 24, 1987, four years after the murder of McNeil.

Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office detectives now seek the public's assistance to determine whether anyone knew Henderson or may have had contact with Gayla as she traveled down the Florida coast and through Palm Beach County. To report a tip, call 1-800-458-TIPS. This case represents the 21st case in the State of Florida where officials have publicly identified an individual using technology developed by Othram.

Help fund another case Your contributions pay for lab supplies and research tools

Michael Vogen

Michael Vogen

Director of Case Management

2829 Technology Forest Blvd Suite 100, The Woodlands, Texas 77381

Michael works with law enforcement agencies throughout the United States and Canada on “unsolvable“ cases that can benefit from advanced DNA testing methods. He helps these agencies use cutting edge DNA sequencing and new forensic techniques to develop investigative leads for their cases.

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About Othram Inc.

Othram is the world’s first private DNA laboratory built specifically to apply the power of modern parallel sequencing to forensic evidence. Othram’s scientists are experts at ... Read morerecovery, enrichment, and analysis of human DNA from trace quantities of degraded or contaminated materials. Founded in 2018, and located in The Woodlands, Texas, our team works with academic researchers, forensic scientists, medical examiners, and law enforcement agencies to achieve results when other approaches have failed. Follow Othram on Twitter @OthramTech or visit to learn how we can help you with your case. With anyone can make a difference and help solve the next cold case.