The Justice Files: Male DNA on penny found at Elizabeth Salgado gravesite

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – A 2006 penny may hold the key in solving the murder of Elizabeth Salgado.

A DNA test revealed that a penny found next to Elizabeth Salgado’s remains belonged to a male.  The penny was found by a member of the Utah Cold Case Coalition a year after her remains were discovered.

“I was so grateful and that the Lord is listening to our prayers,” said Rosemberg Salgado, Elizabeth’s uncle.

Her family believes this latest development can finally lead to her killer.

In 2015, she disappeared after leaving her language school in Provo. It was broad daylight and no one heard any screams often associated with a kidnapping. Provo Police questioned many along the route she would normally take from the school to her apartment.

Three years later, her remains were found at a shallow gravesite in Hobble Creek Canyon in Utah County.

In 2019, Jason Jensen, a private investigator and a co-founder of the coalition was using a metal detector at Salgado’s gravesite. That’s when he came across the 2006 Lincoln head penny.

“We found this penny at the top of the surface underneath some leaves,” Jensen said. 

The penny was taken to Intermountain Forensics for DNA testing. Forensic experts were able to extract DNA from the coin.

“There was human DNA presenton the penny despite being in the elements,” Jensen said. “There was sufficient male DNA for further processing.

Once their analysis is completed, their next move will be to develop a profile by using Ged-Match technology.

It’s the same method used to find the notorious Golden State killer.

Once we’re done here we’ll be able to identify at least one person of interest,” he said.

The Salgado’s have had their hopes dash before. Authorities in Utah County had DNA testing done of evidence found at the burial site. But the tests were inconclusive.

“(This) gives us a lot of hope that we can find whoever killed my niece,” the uncle said. “Everyone in my family is really happy, that finally, something came out.”

It’s a sliver of hope for the Salgado’s whose wait is approaching six years. In the past, detectives questioned Elizabeth’s circle of friends.

When she disappeared, she had been in Utah for about a month. The fact there were no screams or witnesses seeing a struggle in daylight leads many to believe Elizabeth knew her killer.

“It’s definitely someone who is close to her,” Salgado said. “Somebody that knew her. She was spending most of her time at the church and the school.”

Perhaps a penny and science will finally give them answers.

“DNA, that’s a huge step and I feel like the Lord is listening to our prayers,” the uncle said.

Jensen said it will take many more months to learn the identity of this man. He acknowledged it could be one of the investigators at the scene.  If not, he said some man will have a lot of explaining to do about his missing penny.

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