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DNA obtained through a traffic stop linked a 76-year-old man to two decades-old killings in California

"He comes across as just an elderly man, but sadly, unfortunately, looks can be deceiving,” a law enforcement official said.

A 76-year-old California man accused of two decades-old murders was arrested after his DNA was collected from a breathalyzer during an unrelated traffic stop, a law enforcement official said Friday.

James Gary, of Fairfield, was charged with murder earlier this week in the 1996 killing of Winifred Douglas, 46, whose body was found on the side of an interstate in Vallejo, the Solano County Sheriff’s Office and Union City Police Department said in a joint statement. 

Douglas had been strangled and suffered blunt force trauma, the statement said.

Additional charges are expected in the 1980 killing of Latrelle Lindsay, 46. She was found dead in her Union City home, a victim of sexual assault, asphyxiation and blunt force trauma, the statement said.

Though authorities determined in 2012 that the DNA profile from the Solano case matched a piece of evidence in the Union City case, no suspect as was identified in the killings, the departments said.

“He comes across as just an elderly man, but sadly, unfortunately, looks can be deceiving,” Solano County Sheriff’s Lt. Jackson Harris told NBC affiliate KCRA of Sacramento.

Earlier this month, authorities were alerted that the DNA profile matched a 2021 sex crime investigated in a third city in the San Francisco Bay Area, the statement said.

Solano County Sheriff's Sgt. Brex Hawkins declined to provide additional details about the investigation, citing confidentiality rules.

Detectives identified Gary as a possible suspect in the case and began surveilling him, Hawkins said, and Gary was stopped in recent weeks by patrol officers who suspected he was driving under the influence.

Hawkins declined to provide additional details about the stop because of an ongoing investigation but said the detectives saw the stop and later requested the breathalyzer to obtain DNA from its mouthpiece.

"It was fortunate the detectives were watching when they saw this happen," Hawkins said.

On July 18, authorities were told the breathalyzer sample matched the DNA obtained from the two homicides and the sex crime investigation, the statement said. Gary was arrested the following day.

"We are hopeful that this arrest can help bring some closure to the families and friends that have been seeking justice for as much as 40 years," the statement said.

Gary was being held at the Solano County jail on $1 million bail, according to jail records. His lawyer at the Solano County Public Defender's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.