A murdered 10-year-old girl in California finally has a suspect

Written by By Fenton Bailey, CNN

A 30-year-old cold case in Las Vegas is receiving a major boost thanks to the pursuit of DNA evidence.

Authorities say the case originated from a warrant issued in January 1980 in Henderson County, California, charging Leonard Ford, then 16 years old, with the murder of a 10-year-old girl. The victim, Elsie M. Griffith, was found dead in her home on March 3, 1980, after being bound, gagged and strangled with electrical cord.

Griffith’s family saw the warrant before she was killed. They assumed it was a hoax. On the day of the murder, that same day, she left for work at Circle K in Henderson. Her body was found in the garage — still in her car — covered with dirt and on the floor.

At the time, Ford was a high school student. It took a while for law enforcement to learn his identity. In 1978, a detective in Northern California — at the time, one of the small police forces in the state — traced Ford’s last known address to Las Vegas. After further investigation, however, the detective determined Ford was not living in Las Vegas at the time of the murder, but on college break in Tahoe.

Ford, who did not use a car when he lived in California, told authorities he was driving from California to Montana to visit his grandmother in Maine. He said he rented a small station wagon for the journey. He was arrested on a DUI charge in Nevada after it was discovered his girlfriend had also rented a car for the same trip, police said.

The case went cold, but in 2016, Las Vegas police connected with the Reno, Nevada, cold case detective who went through Ford’s parole records. After evaluating the evidence from the 1980 murder in California, Las Vegas police matched DNA samples from the cold case to samples taken from Ford in 1982 in Nevada.

The robbery and murder were reported to Nevada police in August 1981. The department reopened the case earlier this year, when cold case detective Jeff Hummer discovered the warrant was still active.

“That warrants have been active for 30 years, someone with that type of violence should know that police are looking for them and asking them for answers,” said Hummer, who has 20 years of experience.

“We’re going to find out who this individual is and get them what they deserve.”

Earlier this month, Clark County District Court Judge Daniel Green ordered Ford to answer to the murder.

Now, his life is on the line.

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