Who killed Denise Marie Stafford? Sarasota police ID suspect in 1985 cold case using new technology

Sarasota County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Police have identified a suspect in the 35-year-old cold case murder of a Sarasota mother.

Last November, police had asked for information in the unsolved killing of Denise Marie Stafford, 28, saying they believed new information and DNA technology could benefit the case.

Stafford’s body was found on Oct. 13, 1985 at her home in the 300 block of Tarpon Avenue. Investigators suspect Stafford was at home alone with her child at the time of the killing, and died sometime between 11 p.m. on Oct. 12 and 3:10 a.m. on Oct. 13. There were no signs of forced entry to the home.

In March 2020, investigators reexamined old evidence to see what could be tested using new DNA technology, and sent evidence found near Stafford’s body, including the pants she was wearing, to labs for re-testing.

We decided to send garments off to where an individual would have had to touch her to place her on the bed and on those garments underneath her knees and around her ankles from her pants we got a DNA hit and that came back to Joseph Magaletti,” said Detective Jeff Birdwell, the lead investigator on the case.

Magletti, 64, had been considered a person of interest in the case, but was never developed as the suspect, police said.

He died in prison in 2015.

“It is important for every suspect out there who hasn’t been arrested to understand, you haven’t gotten away with it.  We are still coming. You still need to look over your shoulder and with some effort on our part and with technology, your day is coming,” Birdwell said.

“He is gone, he is not going to harm anyone else. That has been my hue and cry from the beginning. I didn’t want to see any other mother go through what our family has,” said Denise’s mother Dolar Knipper. “She was loving, she was a good daughter and we just all love her and miss her.”

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