Cold case probe leads to arrest for 1988 Montecito murder
September 2, 2016
Twenty-eight years following the murder of a 46-year-old Montecito man, cold case detectives used DNA evidence to identify the suspect. Detectives then located the man inside a Florida jail.
Larry Lon Lee, 52, is now facing extradition to Santa Barbara County, where he will face the charge of murdering Vernon Hart Kendrick in 1988.
On July 1, 1988, Kendrick’s employer asked law enforcement to conduct a welfare check at the studio where Kendrick was living alone in the 100 block of Olive Mill Road. A Santa Barbara police officer entered the apartment and found Kendrick’s body inside.
Detectives determined Kendrick had been killed by blunt force trauma.
Kendrick was last seen alive as he was leaving The Palace restaurant in Santa Barbara with a man who was possibly from Florida.
Sheriff’s detectives developed a person of interest but exhausted all leads and did not manage to identify the suspect. The murder investigation then became a cold case.
Over time, different investigators would review the case and examine the evidence using new technology.
In June 2010, a sheriff’s cold case detective submitted critical evidence from the crime scene to the California Department of Justice Crime Lab to conduct a DNA search. The lab identified Kendrick’s DNA, as well as a DNA profile belonging to an unknown man. Authorities entered the DNA profile into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).
On Aug. 18, the DOJ Crime Lab informed the sheriff’s office there was a potential DNA match with Larry Lee, who was in custody in Sarasota County on theft-related charges. Detectives conducted further investigation and found more evidence linking Lee to the murder.
On Thursday morning, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s detectives interviewed Lee in the Sarasota County Jail. An arrest warrant was then obtained, and it was served by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.
Santa Barbara sheriff’s officials have requested that the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office charge Lee with murder. When Lee’s criminal case in Florida is resolved, the sheriff’s office will seek his extradition to Santa Barbara County.
Lee has an extensive criminal history of theft and narcotics-related arrests in several states, including California and Florida, according to the sheriff’s office. He was most recently arrested on July 12.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown held a press conference Thursday during which he praised the work of numerous detectives.
“We would not be here today if it had not been for the professionalism and fine work done by the original sheriff’s detectives and crime scene technicians who meticulously processed the scene, ultimately collecting trace DNA evidence which proved to be pivotal in solving this case,” Brown said. “I also want to commend and recognize the cold case detectives over the years who refused to give up on this case and other cold cases. This case is a great example of how we consider a murder case to never be closed until a suspect is identified and brought to justice. It also shows the importance of dedicating precious resources to cold case investigations.”
The sheriff’s office tried but did not succeed in contacting Kendrick’s family prior to the press conference. Sheriff’s officials did notify a long-time family friend, though, and they say they will keep searching for living relatives.