After 43 years, former Marine accused of murder and rape in death of woman found near base
By JULIA SCLAFANI | Daily Pilot, Costa Mesa, Calif. | Published: June 1, 2019
(Tribune News Service) — A former Marine suspected of killing a 30-year-old woman after she left a Costa Mesa, Calif., restaurant has been charged with murder 43 years later, authorities said Friday.
Eddie Lee Anderson, 66, is charged with one count of murder with a special allegation of rape, according to the Orange County district attorney’s office. The criminal complaint was filed in Orange County Superior Court on May 24, the day Anderson was arrested at his home in River Ridge, La. The file is under seal pending his extradition to California, the district attorney’s office said.
Anderson is in the custody of the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana and was scheduled for an extradition hearing Friday, authorities said.
Anderson is accused in the death of Leslie Penrod Harris, who disappeared the night of May 17, 1976, and was found strangled hours later.
Harris argued with her husband before leaving a Costa Mesa restaurant alone around 8:30 p.m., saying she would take a taxi back to the hotel where they were staying, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time. But she never made it there. She was found dead at about 4:30 the next morning near Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, The Times reported. Military police found Harris’ nude body lying on a roadway just outside the air base’s perimeter.
The Marine base has since been decommissioned, and Irvine’s Great Park was built on part of it.
The Times reported that Harris and her husband, John, were staying at the Airporter Inn in Irvine. They had recently moved to the area, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. It’s unclear where they moved from.
The Times reported that Harris’ husband filed a missing-person report with the Costa Mesa Police Department, leading to Harris’ identification.
At the time, investigators believed the killer was connected to the air base because Harris’ body was discovered in an area unknown to the general public, the Sheriff's Department said in a news release Thursday announcing Anderson’s arrest. However, authorities had no suspects and the case went cold.
Investigators tried to revive the case in 1997 and 2016 following advancements in DNA analysis, but no matches to the evidence collected were found, authorities said.
In 2018, the Orange County Homicide Task Force began using genealogy tools to try to identify a suspect in Harris’ killing. Genealogical DNA testing seeks to find a person’s genealogical relationships or estimate his or her ethnic mixture.
Earlier this year, a lead enabled investigators to build a genealogy profile, and county homicide investigators, with the help of the FBI’s Investigative Genealogy Unit, were able to identify Anderson as a person of interest. FBI officials declined to comment Friday about the methods used to identify Anderson.
Further investigation led authorities to determine that Anderson had been enlisted in the Marines and lived at the El Toro base in the early 1970s. At the time Harris was killed, he lived less than a mile from the restaurant she visited the night of her death, officials said.
Further information about Anderson’s military service was not immediately available Friday.
Orange County sheriff’s officials traveled to Louisiana last week to interview him. He was arrested after volunteering to provide a DNA sample, authorities said.
“Through both traditional DNA and genealogical DNA, we now have the opportunity to solve decades-old cases that would have otherwise been left unsolved,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement Thursday. “These victims and their families have been waiting for justice for decades, and the addition of genealogical DNA is now helping us to advance our efforts to achieve justice for crime victims.”
Genealogical DNA techniques also were used this year to identify James Alan Neal as the suspect in the 1973 killing of 11-year-old Linda Ann O’Keefe in Newport Beach.
Investigators asked that anyone with information about the Harris case call Orange County Crime Stoppers at (855) 847-6227.