On the Case with Paula Zahn: How was Lee Rotatori's murder case solved after 40 years?

Lee Rotatori
Lee Rotatori's 1982 cold case was solved after DNA technology connected the sample found at the scene to the perpetrator, Thomas O. Freeman (Image via Szepthanki Podcast/YouTube)

ID's On the Case With Paula Zahn is set to revisit the brutal 1982 murder of Lee Rotatori in a hotel room, a cold case which was only recently solved owing to advanced DNA technology. The episode titled Room 106 will air this Sunday, October 2, 2022, at 10 pm ET. The synopsis says:

"The chilling murder of Lee Rotatori and the bizarre crime scene evidence police found inside her motel room mark the beginning of a heartbreaking homicide investigation with multiple victims."

Rotatori was 32 years old when she was s*xually assaulted and stabbed to death at Best Western Frontier Motor Lodge in Council Bluffs, Iowa on the night of June 24, 1982. Nearly 40 years later, in February 2022, a man named Thomas O. Freeman was identified as the perpetrator by DNA evidence, according to police's announcement on Friday. Sources also state that Thomas was killed four months after Lee's murder. No arrests have been made in connection to his murder.

This article further discusses the details of Lee Rotatori's murder that occurred in the summer of 1982 and how it was solved four decades later.

DNA technology advancement helped in solving Lee Rotatori's cold case after four decades

The State of Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) Lab in Ankeny received samples of evidence gathered from the crime scene in 2001 from investigators for forensic examination.

The lab was able to establish a profile and identify the presence of male DNA thanks to advancements in forensic analysis. Although the information was submitted to databases used by state and federal law enforcement, no matches were found at the time. However, over the years, numerous searches of the same databases using the profile failed to produce any results.

In 2019, detectives reportedly sent an unidentified male DNA profile to Parabon NanoLabs in April 2019. This Virginia-based organization focuses on offering phenotyping services to law enforcement. The unidentified male DNA profile originated from Freeman in West Frankfort, Illinois. Eric Schubert, a college student, also worked as a volunteer genealogist on this case.

Upon request, Freeman's daughter submitted a DNA sample regardless of the fact that her father was murdered not long after Rotatori. According to investigators, the DNA taken from inside Rotatori's hotel room was a perfect match to that of Freeman's daughter. Authorities are presently conducting an extensive investigation to see if Freeman's death is connected to Rotatori's murder.

Lee Rotatori was found dead with a single stab wound to the heart


Sources state that Lee Rotatori had just relocated to Iowa from Nunica, Michigan, after accepting a job at Jennie Edmundson Hospital and was temporarily residing at the Best Western Frontier Hotel while looking for a permanent residence.

Rotatori's body was only discovered when her supervisor from work reportedly called the hotel when she failed to show up for work. Concerned about her well-being, the employer requested the hotel employees to check her room whether she was still there or not. Staff found her lying dead on the floor in a pool of her own blood on the right side of the bed and called 911, who pronounced her dead.

Pottawattamie County medical examiner, Dr. Samuel Rosa, disclosed that Rotatori died of a single but fatal stab wound to the heart which was inflicted from the front. Dr. Rosa also stated that the victim probably died about 12 hours before her body was discovered. Investigators also claimed that there were indications that she was s*xually assaulted. Not a single suspect was identified at the time.

On the Case With Paula Zahn airs on ID with Lee Rotatori's decades-old this Sunday, October 2, 2022, at 10 pm ET.

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