PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A Mississippi man was arrested late last month in connection to a murder that happened nearly 36 years ago, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said.
On Feb. 9, 1987, deputies responded to a home in unincorporated St. Petersburg for a deceased person.
The victim, Opal Weil, 82, was found by her sister-in-law after she didn’t answer her phone. Deputies said Weil had obvious and visible signs of trauma. They learned that the suspect had fled the scene prior to their arrival.
Investigators said they found out the suspect gained entry to the home by removing a single windowpane and entering the home’s Florida room.
Detectives said they found the home’s phone line had been cut. Forensic technicians collected evidence left at the scene including several hairs.
Investigators said a partial DNA profile was developed from the hairs found at the scene but no matches were identified until recently.
In December 2020, Pinellas cold case detectives were assigned to the case. They sent a request to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for additional testing of the hairs. They also requested Parabon Nanolabs to conduct further genealogical testing.
After extensive testing by Parabon Nanolabs, detectives said family trees were constructed and familial relatives were identified. Parabon Nanolabs was able to narrow down the suspects to three possible males.
Investigators said they excluded two of the males leaving Michael Lapniewski, Jr, as the primary suspect. They said Lapniewski lived about a half mile from where the murder happened in 1987.
Investigators learned Lapniewski was living in Waveland, Mississippi, and traveled there to continue the investigation.
They said they were able to obtain Lapniewski’s DNA through investigative techniques and submitted it to FDLE for analysis.
Detectives later learned that the DNA profile from Lapniewski matched the profile from the evidence found at the scene.
Lapniewski was arrested in Mississippi on Jan. 26 and extradited to Pinellas County where he is being charged with first-degree murder, the sheriff’s office said.