Photo: El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office
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Brynn Rainey was early for her shift at the Sahara Tahoe Casino. At 2 a.m., she was due to start her overnight gig as a keno girl. But since she had a little time to spare, Brynn stopped at the nearby Bittercreek Saloon first.
The bartender later told investigators he remembered seeing her on the night of July 24, 1977. No one appeared to bother her and no one noticed her leave. The first people to notice her absence were her co-workers; Rainey didn’t show up for her usual shift.
For a month, the 27-year-old remained missing. Nothing was touched inside her apartment on Emerald Bay Road in South Lake Tahoe. Police were stumped.
On August 20, 1977, a horseback rider at Stateline Stables noticed what looked like a shallow grave. In it, police found Brynn’s badly decomposed body. Her purse was also buried nearby. Based on what forensic evidence remained, the pathologist thought she had been sexually assaulted and strangled.
Two years later, 16-year-old Carol Andersen left her home in Stateline, Nev., to enjoy a sunny summer day at Regan Beach. As the sun started to set, Carol hitched a ride with friends to a house party near Heavenly ski resort. The night wore on, and Carol’s friends left the party one by one, each asking her if she wanted a ride home. She declined them all.
The last time anyone remembered seeing Carol was around 11:30 p.m. Police think she probably left the party on foot. Perhaps, like so many other teens in the 1970s, she hitched a ride with a stranger.
The next morning, someone called the police to report they had found a body on Sundown Trail. Unlike with Brynn, no attempt had been made to hide Carol’s lifeless form. Ligature marks on her wrists indicated she had been bound — like Brynn, she had been strangled.
Carol’s case, too, went cold. For four decades, Carol and Brynn’s families mourned and wondered. Unbeknownst to them, they were united in more than their grief.
On Tuesday, the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office announced they believe the two women were killed by the same man.
Their suspect, now dead for some five years, is Joseph Holt.
He was born in the Bay Area in 1947, graduated from Cupertino High and attended UC Berkeley. Police say he frequented Los Gatos and South Lake Tahoe in the 1970s and worked in real estate in the Tahoe area. He lived less than two miles from where Brynn and Carol’s bodies were found.
When the El Dorado County Cold Case Task Force reopened the cases several years ago, they hired Parabon NanoLabs to test blood on Brynn’s shirt and DNA samples from Andersen’s body. The DNA technology company used genetic genealogy — the same process that identified a suspect in the long-cold Golden State Killer case — to zero in on the Holt family. Genetic genealogy rarely identifies the suspect directly; instead, investigators mine user-submitted DNA kits, the kind consumers use to find out their genealogical background, to find close matches in the system. From there, investigators can narrow their pool of suspects.
Holt’s living family, including a biological son, agreed to help with the inquiry. The son gave his own DNA and provided an old toothbrush from his father; the sample matched the DNA found at the two crime scenes, El Dorado County DA Vern Pierson said.
“Joseph Holt was never on the radar,” investigator John Gaines told Fox40.
In January, a warrant was served to search Holt’s remaining personal effects. The DA’s office said they found “evidence suggestive of other criminal conduct,” including a 1975 news clipping about an unsolved Los Gatos shooting. The victim in that case survived. A sketch produced by Los Gatos police at the time of the shooting, which was not fatal, matches a contemporary picture of Holt almost exactly.
With their suspect dead, there is no arrest forthcoming. But, at least, part of the mystery that has haunted the Andersen and Rainey families for 40 years can be put to rest.
“Through all their hard work and efforts, they were able to give the family some answers and closure,” Carol’s family said in a statement to the Sacramento Bee, “and ultimately allow Carol Andersen to rest in peace.”
The DA’s case against Holt is still ongoing. Anyone with information concerning Holt is asked to call the task force hotline at 530-621-4590.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/brynn-rainey-carol-andersen-joseph-holt-cold-case-13644208.php.