MARTINEZ – On October 2, 2018, the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office announced that homicide detectives have now identified a suspect in the September 20, 1985 killing of Virginia Vincent, 57, of Danville. On that day, a concerned neighbor found Vincent’s body in her apartment and notified police. It was later determined that she was raped and murdered.
Despite the pursuit of all investigative leads, no suspect was ever identified and the case went cold for nearly two decades. In April 2002, a DNA profile was created from the evidence found at the crime scene. No match was found, and once again the case went cold for another 15 years. Over the years, there have been technological advances in forensic science that have assisted law enforcement agencies in analyzing evidence from cold cases. One method is known as “familial search.”
“Thirty-three years of not knowing who raped and murdered this Danville woman and the mystery is now solved thanks to science, technology and the extremely bright criminalists inside a California DOJ lab,” said California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) President Alan Barcelona. “Familial DNA work by California DOJ criminalists have led to some remarkable ‘solves’ including the arrest, conviction and sentencing of the Grim Sleeper, who evaded investigators for decades.”
2016 CSLEA video: California DOJ Criminalist’s role in identifying the Grim Sleeper suspect
In November 2017, the Sheriff’s Office submitted a request to the California Department of Justice (DOJ) Bureau of Forensic Services (BFS) to conduct a familial search using the DNA recovered at the scene.
In June 2018, the Sheriff’s Office was notified of a possible match through the diligent work of the BFS committee. Homicide detectives later identified Joey Lynn Ford as the likely suspect in the killing of Vincent. Ford died in 1997 at the age of 36 and is buried at a cemetery in Fairfield. Ford’s body was later exhumed. The Sheriff’s Forensic Services Division Crime Lab confirmed Ford as the suspect after a DNA sample extracted from him matched that found at the crime scene. This is the first successful familial search on a cold case in the Bay Area, according to the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office.
Detectives are still working to determine how the suspect and victim might be acquainted, but records indicate Ford was arrested for DUI in Danville the day before the killing, just a short distance from the crime scene. At the time of the homicide, Ford was working as a plumber in the area and Vincent was a real estate agent. Investigators believe this is the likely connection between them, but that remains unclear.
"The Sheriff's Office and all of the law enforcement agencies involved were relentless in their handling of this case, they are the true heroes," said Marianna Wickman, daughter of victim Virginia Vincent. "So many were instrumental in getting us our closure and were sensitive to our needs. I am so very grateful." Wickman asked for privacy for herself and the family.
The Sheriff’s Office acknowledges the California Department of Justice Bureau of Forensic Services and Bureau of Investigation for their assistance in this investigation. It also recognizes Rick Jackson, a retired long-time LAPD homicide detective who now resides in the Bay Area, for his dedication and work on this case.
“Because the suspect Joey Ford is deceased, there will be no prosecution in this case,” said Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston. “However, we hope that the identification of the suspect in the killing of Virginia Vincent brings her family and the community some closure in this painful case.”