She’d left her family’s Arlington motel room to throw trash in the dumpster.
But Julie Fuller, 11, never came back.
Construction workers would find her nude body the next day along the bank of the Trinity River in northeast Fort Worth.
She’d been raped and strangled.
For almost 35 years, her killer’s identity has eluded police.
But now, Fort Worth police are hoping a composite built from DNA that the killer left behind might lead to a break in the case.
Parabon Nanolabs, a Virginia-based company, uses analysis of DNA samples in unsolved cases to predict a suspect’s physical appearance, including ancestry and hair and eye color.
Wednesday, Fort Worth police released three Snapshot composites created by the company based on those predictions. The composites show what the suspect may have likely looked like at age 25, 45 and 65, since investigators have no idea what the age of Julie’s killer might be.
“There was never an eyewitness to her abduction,” Fort Worth homicide Detective Tom O’Brien said.
The composites can’t account for outside and environmental factors, such as facial hair, a person’s weight, hair style or scars. But based on the company’s analysis, the suspect is likely to be white, of northern European ancestry, and have fair to very fair skin color, blue eyes with possibly some green, blond or brown hair and some to many freckles.
“This is one of the cases that has been investigated by generations of detectives and, after over 30 years, it’s time to get the family some closure,” O’Brien said.
Lee Fuller was 13 the summer that his younger sister was murdered.
He’s 48 now and still struggles to keep his composure while discussing the summer that changed his family’s life.
It had started out great, he recalls.
The two children and their mother, Janet Fuller, only weeks before had left their home in England to join their father, Colin Fuller, a U.S.-born electrician who had already moved to the United States to start a new job.
They were in the process of buying a home in Arlington. But until that was complete, the family was staying at the Kensington Motor Lodge and Apartments at 1220 W. Division St. in Arlington.
Although they would learn later that it was in a questionable area of the city, Lee Fuller said he and his sister had loved staying at the motel. They reveled in the childhood joys of a new country — things like video games, McDonalds and swimming in the motel’s pool.
“To us, it was like a vacation,” Lee Fuller recalled. “It was all very much an exciting experience for us.”
But the vacationlike atmosphere would come to an abrupt end on the evening of June 27, 1983, when Julie volunteered to take the trash to a nearby dumpster.
“My sister was one of those always willing to jump and do things,” Lee Fuller said. “I always look back and blame myself.”
It should haven’t taken her a minute, two tops, he said.
“Then she just never came back,” he said.
‘Angry we couldn’t find her’
Lee Fuller remembers how he and his mother looked for Julie.
“I remember being angry we couldn’t find her, thinking she had just gone off somewhere. What else would you think?” he said. “ I remember saying, ‘We’re going to kill her when we find her.’ It doesn’t even occur to you that could be a reality.”
Police and neighbors soon would join in the search.
The next day, around noon, three construction workers who had stopped near a bridge to eat lunch spotted Julie’s body in the high weeds near the 200 block of Handley-Ederville Road in Fort Worth, about 30 feet from the West Fork of the Trinity River.
Lee Fuller says it was his father who went to identify Julie’s remains.
He remembers his dad coming home and taking him and his mother into a bedroom. How his dad screamed like a wounded animal before pulling his wife and son onto the bed and telling them that Julie was dead.
His sister would be buried in Moore Memorial Gardens in Arlington.
It would not be long before the Fullers would return to England, away from the city that they had come to with such hopes for the future, only to leave as an incomplete family.
“I think my mom wanted to stay because she wanted to be next to her grave,” Lee Fuller said. “My dad didn’t want to be here.”
‘Some kind of closure’
Investigators tracked down numerous leads.
Reports that a girl similar in description had been seen arguing with a man inside a parked station wagon.
Reports that a suspicious pickup had been seen in the area just before Julie’s body was found.
“They ran down all those leads and were never able to substantiate any (of them),” O’Brien said. “They never got us back to who did this.”
What police did have, however, was DNA evidence collected from the scene.
The suspect’s DNA profile would be entered into the Combined DNA Index System, a national database that compares DNA profiles of unknown suspects with certain offenders in the criminal justice system, but no match was ever made.
O’Brien said he is hopeful someone will look at each version of the Snapshot composites and alert Fort Worth police if the suspect looks familiar.
“We don’t know if this individual lived in the area or passed through there at the time of the offense,” O’Brien said. “I’m not sure if this individual is still alive or deceased. We’re just looking for anybody that might have any reason to think this person was someone they knew or a family member.”
Arlington police recently used the same technology in hopes of pinpointing a suspect in the unsolved 1986 rape and fatal shooting of Teresa Branch, an 18-year-old woman attacked while jogging to her parents’ nearby home after her car stalled. That case remains unsolved.
Lee Fuller returned to the United States in 2001 and lives in Virginia with his family and his mother. His parents are divorced and his dad still lives in England.
All three have looked at the composites, but they don’t recognize the suspect, he said.
Lee Fuller said he is grateful that police have continued to pursue the case through the years and hopes this latest effort pays off.
“I would like to get some kind of closure,” he said. “I’m not expecting some kind of justice because realizing even if, happy days, you find someone ... they’ve had a 35-year happy life. Is that justice? You’ve changed other people’s lives and you’ve gotten away with it 35 years.”
Anyone with information about the suspect is asked to call Detective Tom O’Brien at 817-392-4338.