Slaying of Florida woman went unsolved for 36 years. A Mississippi man is now charged

Photo by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office

An 82-year-old woman was found slain inside her Florida home nearly 36 years ago, detectives say. The case went cold until DNA testing led to an arrest on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Michael Lapniewski Jr., 55, is now charged with murder in the 1987 killing of Opal Weil, investigators with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday, Feb. 1.

Cold case detectives arrested Lapniewski on Jan. 26 in Waveland, Mississippi, a city about 45 miles west of Biloxi. His arrest ended an “extensive,” decades-long search for Weil’s killer, detectives said.

On Feb. 9, 1987, Pinellas County deputies responded to a report of a deceased person at a home in unincorporated St. Petersburg, police wrote in a news release. Weil’s sister-in-law discovered her body after she wasn’t able to reach her on the phone.

Weil’s body had “visible signs of trauma,” deputies said, and the suspect was gone by the time authorities arrived.

“Forensic technicians collected evidence left at the scene, including several hairs that didn’t appear to belong to the victim,” Deputy Dave Brenn said in a video posted to the department’s Facebook page. “A partial DNA profile was developed from the hairs collected from the scene, but no matches were identified at the time.”

During their investigation, deputies learned the suspect broke into Weil’s home through a window in her room. The phone lines had also been cut, investigators said.

Cold case detectives were assigned the case in December 2020 and reached out to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct additional testing on the hairs found at the scene, according to the release. Through DNA testing, Parabon Nanolabs constructed family trees that helped identify relatives.

Detectives narrowed the matches to three possible men, two of whom were eventually ruled out as suspects in Weil’s killing, deputies said.

Lapniewski, who lived a half mile from Weil’s house at the time of the murder, was identified as the primary suspect. Authorities learned he was living in Waveland, where they arrested him after deputies said testing confirmed his DNA profile matched the profile compiled from evidence at the crime scene.

Lapniewski was extradited to Pinellas County and jailed on a charge of first-degree murder, deputies said.

Authorities said the case remains under investigation.

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