Cape Coral Forensic Work on Cornell-Story Case Earns Worldwide Recognition

Lee Herald Favicon 16On September 28 of last year, members of the Cape Coral Police Department, media partners and community leaders gathered at the Cape Coral Police headquarters to celebrate a CODIS DNA hit that led to a possible resolution to the then 26-year-old homicides of Lisa Story and Robin Cornell.

As told by CCPD Detective Christy Jo Ellis, Lisa Story had just moved into the Southeast Cape Coral apartment a day prior. The residence was shared by Jan, Lisa and Jan’s daughter, Robin.

On the evening of May 9, 1990, Jan Cornell visited her boyfriend, who resided a short distance away, and watched an evening basketball game. During the course of the evening, Cornell fell asleep on her boyfriend’s couch.

Detective Ellis indicated that Cornell began work rather early each day and, at approximately 4:00 a.m., returned to her apartment to begin to prepare for work. Upon her arrival, she found the bottom of two locks to be locked; an unusual occurrence as the lock had frequently malfunctioned and was no longer used by the residents.

Jan Cornell knocked and, subsequently, heard footsteps coming down the internal apartment staircase. Still, the door remained unanswered.

Concerned and sensing that something was awry, Cornell walked to the rear of the apartment and discovered the rear patio door ajar. According to Detective Ellis, the rear sliding glass door was opened, as well. The vertical blinds were “swinging in the breeze.” Jan Cornell suddenly suspected that she was likely the victim of a burglary.

She reportedly entered her home and found her daughter, Robin, unresponsive. She also found her new roommate, Lisa, nude and still in one of the apartment’s bedrooms.

Forensic investigation determined that both Robin and Lisa were suffocated and sexually assaulted.

Over two decades later, a CODIS DNA hit occurred linking an arrestee at the Lee County Jail to the 1990 murder.

Joseph Adam Zieler (DOB 04-15-1962) had been in custody, arrested for an unrelated offense. A DNA sample, ran through CODIS, determined that he matched the profile of the 1990 murderer. Zieler was charged with the brutal killings of Lisa Story and Jan Cornell.

On May 16-17, a “DNA Hit of the Year” award will be presented in Vienna, Austria at the Human Identification Solutions (HIDS) conference.  The award process is designated to “celebrate recent forensic DNA database hits from around the globe that have had significant impact on criminal justice and public safety.”

Vicki Bellino, of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, nominated the Cornell – Story CODIS DNA discovery.  Of 50 cases received by the presenters, the submission was initially chosen to be in the top ten.  After an April 10 consideration, the CCPD’s forensic work made the “Top Five.”

“We would like to thank you for your recent submission for the DNA Hit of the Year Award. As you know, your case was submitted as a top 5 finalist to the international panel of experts. The panel spent many hours discussing these phenomenal cases, and arrived at a winner. After much debate, your case did not win the award. Your case was scientifically and forensically important and unique. The judges really enjoyed reading all of the cases, especially those that made it down to the top 5. Because of the significance of the top 5 cases, they will be highlighted at the conference in Austria,”  responded Kyle Schroeder of Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs.

“To be one of only five cases featured worldwide is an honor and a testament to the incredible work our detectives did, working tirelessly over a quarter century to bring closure to the families and to obtain justice for the victims,” added Corporal Phil Mullen of the CCPD.

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