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DNA revives murder probe

THURSDAY, FEB. 25, 2010

Retired mother of seven is person of interest

An elderly woman beaten to death in her home. Her apartment ransacked and several silver coins missing. Few clues left behind to identify her killer.

The 1984 murder of Ruby M. Miller, 87, stumped Spokane police detectives and frightened neighbors near her East Riverside Boulevard home, where she was known as “the cat lady” – a woman of modest means who had little but felt safe.

Now, more than 25 years later, detectives have identified a 74-year-old woman as a “person of interest” in Miller’s murder.

Spokane retiree Neomi Jensen has been questioned but not charged, said police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer DeRuwe.

“We want to make sure the case is rock solid, but at this point our biggest lead in the case is Jensen,” DeRuwe said. But, she said, “we don’t feel she’s a threat to the community.”

Reached by phone Wednesday, Jensen’s daughter, Linda Adams, called the investigation into her mother “just so ludicrous” and said Jensen had nothing to do with Miller’s death.

Adams said she traveled here from the West Side a couple days ago to help her brothers and sisters retain a lawyer for their mother, who she said raised her seven children in Spokane.

“She’s had a lot of heart problems and things so I came over from Seattle just kind of for moral support,” Adams said. “These detectives, they won’t let up.”

Spokane police Detective Mark Burbridge used a search warrant this month to obtain new palm prints from Jensen and a sample of her DNA after forensic specialists lifted new fingerprints from the 25-year-old evidence this year – including the suspected murder weapon, which police declined to disclose.

Prints found on that item matched Jensen’s right and left ring fingers, but several palm prints are still unidentified, according to the warrant, filed Tuesday in Spokane County District Court. Jensen’s fingerprints were on file because of several criminal convictions, including misdemeanor assaults and domestic violence, according to police.

New technology also revealed DNA belonging to an unidentified female on hairs found in Miller’s bedding when a now-retired detective reopened the case in 2004. Police want to know if that DNA could be Jensen’s.

Miller was found dead on March 31, 1984, after officers conducted a welfare check at her apartment at 1504 E. Riverside Blvd. The woman was known for having many cats and had lived in the home in the mostly industrial area for many years, according to previously published reports.

When officers arrived, according to court documents, the back door was broken and broken glass covered the kitchen floor. Miller was in her bed, covered by blankets and severely beaten. At the time, friends said Miller was nearly blind and was very kind to strangers, inviting them into her home for food or to sleep on the porch.

Police believe her killer used a household object to hit Miller in the face repeatedly, fracturing her skull. Detectives don’t want a description of the murder weapon publicized – the detail could be key in securing a conviction, DeRuwe said.

In an interview with Burbridge this month, Jensen said she’d never met Miller and, after seeing a picture of Miller’s home, said she’d never been there, according to the search warrant.

“(Burbridge) spent several minutes with Ms. Jensen having her think carefully about where she was in the mid-1980s and if she was certain she did not know Ms. Miller or had never been in 1504 E. Riverside,” the warrant said. “Ms. Jensen said she was positive she had not ever been in 1504 E. Riverside.”

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