Larry Lon Lee
SANTA BARBARA — Through the tenacity and patience of law enforcement agencies and the men and women dedicated to solving crimes on the books for decades, “cold cases” are never “closed cases” until an arrest is made and evidence is presented to prosecutors.
This principle was announced and demonstrated at a September 1st press conference conducted by Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown as he detailed the arrest of 52-year-old Larry Lon Lee on suspicion of the 1988 murder of Vernon Hart Kendrick, who was 46 years old at the time of his death.
According to SBSD Public Information Officer Kelly Hoover, Kendrick was found dead in his Montecito apartment on July 1, 1988, following his employer’s request for police assistance in checking on his welfare, as he had uncharacteristically failed to report for work for several days.
A Santa Barbara Police Department patrol officer arrived at Kendrick’s apartment that afternoon and “found a deceased male inside,” the apparent victim of a “blunt force trauma.”
The ensuing homicide investigation revealed that Kendrick had dined with an unidentified male at a popular Santa Barbara restaurant the night of his death, but “despite all investigative means” police were unable to identify Kendrick’s dinner partner. The identity of the potential suspect went unknown and the crime became a “cold case, remaining unsolved.
But with the advent of new forensic technology, SBSD homicide detectives periodically continued to review the evidence on hand, and on August 18th, 2016, a DNA match of that evidence with Lee—currently in custody in Sarasota County, Florida on unrelated theft charges—was made.
Forensic detectives promptly “conducted further investigation and found more evidence linking Lee to Kendrick’s murder.”
Acting upon those findings, on September 1st the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office filed first degree murder charges against Lee.
According to Hoover, “once Lee’s pending Florida criminal case has been resolved,” he’ll be extradited back to Santa Barbara to face those charges.
Photos: Courtesy Santa Barbara County Sheriff, Sarasota County Jail Booking