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Michelle Wyatt murder solved with genetic genealogy

Killer's first wife the only relative who believes in his innocence

“She loved the ocean. She was always moving, always on the go.”
“She loved the ocean. She was always moving, always on the go.”

Forty years ago, in March 1982, I wrote a Reader cover story about the brutal rape and murder of a 20-year-old college student named Michelle Wyatt in her Santee condominium. Part of that story concerned her mother’s frustration that after more than a year, the killer still had not been found. Last August, investigative genetic genealogy finally identified Michelle’s killer as a former neighbor named John Patrick Hogan. But there was no arrest, no trial, and no conviction, because Hogan had died 17 years earlier — ironically, on the very same day of the year, October 9, that he killed Wyatt.

Brian Patterson, who just retired after more than 26 years with the Sheriff’s Department — the last eleven in homicide — led the team of detectives that solved the case. It had been a cold case for years; during the initial investigation, 38 suspects had been interrogated and ultimately cleared — many years later — when their DNA was found not to match the killer’s, which had been found in Wyatt’s body. The case had been assigned to another detective, Patterson said, who had had no luck. Then, little over two years ago, Patterson was asked by a deputy district attorney with whom he was working on another case if he’d like to take another look. After reading up on the case, he agreed to take it on.

“I grew up in Santee, and the DA who had the other case with me also grew up in Santee,” Patterson said. “So I just took an interest in it, and when I read through the case, there were people in there I knew. So it was just kind of interesting. And everything had been done, for the most part. They had eliminated nearly forty people through DNA, and the main people they thought had done it were eliminated through DNA, so there wasn’t a whole lot to do on it. But then when genetic genealogy came about, that kind of opened the door.”

Investigative genetic genealogy is an emerging field of forensic science that essentially takes DNA testing to the next level. DNA was first used in a criminal case in 1986, and soon became standard practice because of its incredible accuracy in cases where biological evidence exists: blood, saliva, semen, skin underneath a victim’s fingernails, etc. According to the U.S. Justice Department Archives website, “DNA evidence is generally linked to DNA offender profiles through DNA databases. In the late 1980s, the federal government laid the groundwork for a system of national, state, and local DNA databases for the storage and exchange of DNA profiles. This system, called the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), maintains DNA profiles obtained under the federal, state, and local systems in a set of databases that are available to law enforcement agencies across the country... CODIS can compare crime scene evidence to a database of DNA profiles obtained from convicted offenders. CODIS can also link DNA evidence obtained from different crime scenes, thereby identifying serial criminals. In order to take advantage of the investigative potential of CODIS, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, states began passing laws requiring offenders convicted of certain offenses to provide DNA samples. Currently all 50 states and the federal government have laws requiring that DNA samples be collected from some categories of offenders.”

In cases like Michelle Wyatt’s murder, where DNA testing — performed years later, because it wasn’t around at the time of her death — found no match in any criminal database, investigative genetic genealogy can prove the critical next step. According to the Oxford Academic Journal of Law and the Biosciences, “the technique involves uploading a crime scene DNA profile to one or more genetic genealogy databases with the intention of identifying a criminal offender’s genetic relatives and, eventually, locating the offender within the family tree. IGG was used to identify the Golden State Killer in 2018 and it is now being used in connection with hundreds of cases in the USA.”


Michelle Wyatt was pretty, blonde and athletic. She had been born early in the morning of February 9, 1960 to Raymond and Louise Wyatt. The young family moved into a small apartment on Golden Hill, but by the time Wyatt was six, they had settled into a three-bedroom house on Regner Road in San Carlos near Grossmont College. She attended Gage Elementary, Pershing Junior High, and Patrick Henry High schools. Forty years ago, her mother told me, “She loved the ocean. She was always moving, always on the go.” Wyatt took up scuba diving and tap dancing. After graduating from Patrick Henry High School in 1978, she attended Grossmont College for one semester, sat out the next, and then enrolled at Mesa College, where, at the time of her death, she was trying to decide between a career in oceanography and one in the telecommunications and film industry.

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From my March 1982 Reader story: In the meantime, she was earning extra spending money, and later supporting herself, by working at a succession of part-time jobs — first at a McDonald’s in San Carlos, then at Winchell’s Donuts in Fletcher Hills, and finally as a checker at the Safeway store in Mission Village, on the mesa north of San Diego Stadium. She also loved working with children, and regularly taught a handful of neighborhood youngsters how to dance and play the organ. “I mentioned to her one time, ‘Honey, you could make so much more money by working more hours at Safeway than by giving dancing lessons’ — she only charged $3.50, which is far less than the going rate — but she said, ‘Mom, you don’t know the enjoyment I get out of it,’” Louise Wyatt said. “She was also teaching a little boy and a little girl how to play the organ. When she was killed, both of them dropped the instrument — they wanted nothing more to do with the organ because it reminded them of Michelle.”


John Patrick Hogan was born two years later than Wyatt, in 1962, and not much is known about his early years. But it is more than likely that he was conceived on the set of the How the West Was Won, an epic Western with an all-star cast that included John Wayne, James Stewart, Gregory Peck, and Debbie Reynolds. His dad, Rusty, was a contractor who built movie sets. It is believed that in 1961, he happened to be in Arizona, where filming had begun on the ambitious movie, which was nominated for eight Academy Awards and went on to win three. It was there on the set that he likely met Patrick’s mother, “who then raised the suspect” — John Patrick Hogan — “with another man, whose last name was Hogan,” Detective Patterson says. “He and his mother, with a newer husband, moved here in the middle ‘70s, and actually lived in the same complex as Michelle did,” Patterson says. “We found an ID bracelet he had given a relative, and it had the address on it. His mother had other kids, with Hogan and then with other men. They bounced back between California and Arizona. It was a pretty dysfunctional family; there are articles you can find about how the mom shot her husband — not Hogan. He survived; she did some time in jail.”

Patterson and his team were able to interview two of John Patrick Hogan’s relatives. “They were very helpful, but they definitely do not want their names out there,” Patterson said. The sisters told detectives that Hogan attended Santana High School and ran with the druggie crowd. He got his girlfriend pregnant while they were still in high school and wound up marrying her. “But her parents didn’t like him — go figure — so she lived with her parents and he lived wherever,” Patterson said. “Then he joined the Air Force and she moved with him to New Mexico. She was there for a little while, then she came back, and he took leave for a week in October and came back out here.”

Raymond and Louise Wyatt at the grave of their daughter, Michelle, at Mount Hope Cemetery.

Michelle Wyatt and Patrick Hogan’s paths crossed on the night of October 9, 1980, just a few days after Hogan had gotten back into San Diego from New Mexico. In January 1980, Wyatt’s father had let her and a roommate move into a condo he owned at 10586 Kerrigan Court in Santee. Michelle was ecstatic: as much as she loved her dad, her mom, and her little brother, Ray-J, she was excited to be on her own. Patterson: “[Hogan’s] connection to Michelle, we think, is that because he had lived in that complex, he knew people in that complex. He knew a guy who lived cater-corner from Michelle, and that guy used to play pool with her in her garage, because she had a pool table. So when I spoke to him, he goes, ‘Yeah, I know her and we saw her and I wanted to date her, but I was kind of scared because she’s an attractive lady.’ And then I brought up Patrick Hogan, and he’s talking and then all of a sudden it hits him why I brought up his name. And he goes, ‘Oh, are you telling me he did it?’ I told him it looks like he might have, and he says, ‘Well, of all the people I know, that’s the guy who could do something like that. But nobody ever asked about him.’”


From my 1982 Reader story: About eight o’clock on the evening of Wednesday, October 8, Michelle Wyatt left the Sue Hamilton School of Dance on El Cajon Boulevard, where she had been taking tap-dancing lessons three nights a week since she was seven, and drove home. There she was met by her boyfriend of four months, Patrick Acomb, who had just completed his last class of the day at Mesa College. The two had met the previous spring at the Safeway store where Michelle was working as a checker. Acomb, who at the time lived nearby, had started paying her regular visits before finally asking her out for a date in July. They began seeing each other regularly and grew quite close. Just a few days before she was murdered, when her mother half-jokingly asked, “Hey, Michelle, are you getting married?” Michelle rolled her eyes and, giggling, said, “Oh, Mom, you’re embarrassing me, but, yes. I’ve finally found the right one.”

John Patrick Hogan, killer of Michelle Wyatt.

Shortly after Acomb’s arrival, he and Michelle retreated to the condo’s garage, where they played three games of pool while talking about what each had done that day. Michelle had attended only two of her classes that morning, opting, instead of attending a third, to go running with her boyfriend before dance class, and she was fatigued. Still, she managed to beat Acomb in all three pool games, and on their way out of the garage she kidded him about her victories. After turning out the garage lights, they went back inside the condo through the sliding glass doors in the dining room and sat down in the living room to watch television. Acomb doesn’t recall whether they had locked the glass doors after their entry, and the question has repeatedly bothered him since. What he does remember clearly is that he left through the front door shortly before one the following morning, instructing Michelle, as he always did, to lock the door behind him. That was the last time anyone saw Michelle Wyatt alive. Less than an hour later, a neighbor reported hearing Michelle’s two collies barking furiously, accompanied by some yelling, but they didn’t investigate.

Just before five the next afternoon, Michelle’s roommate, who asked her name not be used, returned home from an overnight excursion and parked her car along the Kerrigan Court curb. She had moved in with Michelle the previous July.... The glare of the late afternoon sun was blinding to the roommate as she walked past the two rows of condos onto the strip of grass leading to her own front door... As she approached the condo, what she saw filled her with instant apprehension. “I knew something had to be wrong, because the lights were still on and the curtains were drawn,” the roommate recalled later. “Michelle always got up early, and she would never leave the house shut up like that. As I walked up to the front door, I remember thinking, this is weird, because the mail was still in the mailbox and the newspaper was on the ground outside the door. Then I opened the door and I saw her right away, and I knew immediately... I don’t know how, I just knew — instinct, maybe. You just know. I dropped everything I had in my hands — I dropped the newspaper, the mail, some books I had borrowed from a friend — and ran to a neighbor’s apartment across the lawn, all the while thinking, I must be dreaming. I called the police and then Mrs. Wyatt. I waited for the police outside the front door of the apartment I had run to. I wasn’t sure this had really happened, and I figured the police would tell me if it was true, if Michelle was really dead. When they told me, I just couldn’t believe it. All I could say, over and over, was, ‘Oh my God, Oh my God.’”


After the murder, Hogan returned to New Mexico. Very little is known of his later life, except that he got divorced, married a second time, had a second child, and died of a methamphetamine overdose on October 9, 2004, twenty-four years, to the day, after he murdered Wyatt. At the time of his death, he was forty-two.

Why did he kill her? “When you figure that out, let me know,” Patterson says. But if he doesn’t know the why, at least he knows the who. Hogan’s identity was announced by the department in an August 4, 2021 news release, and the local media took note. But they didn’t tell the story of how that identity was found.

Senior Crime and Intelligence Analyst Jeffrey Vandersip (with beard) and Detective Brian Patterson (who has just retired), both with the San Diego Sheriff’s Department.

When police arrived at the Santee condominium in response to the roommate’s phone call, they found Wyatt’s lifeless body just inside the front door. Her purse, and its contents, had been dumped out into the toilet. They collected evidence, dusted for fingerprints, and took lots of photos. The body was taken to the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office, where an autopsy determined that Wyatt had died of asphyxiation after having been strangled with a telephone cord. She had also been sexually assaulted, “and seminal fluid was recovered,” according to the news release.

The initial investigation into her murder went nowhere. This was six years before DNA’s first use in a criminal case, and at the time, detectives relied mostly on interrogating family members, friends, and acquaintances of the victim in an attempt to piece together what had happened and identify any potential suspects. According to the news release, “numerous potential suspects were identified and interviewed. After an exhaustive investigation, all leads were followed until the case went cold.” I had interviewed Sergeant Bill Baxter, who supervised the Sheriff’s Department’s ten homicide detectives at the time of Wyatt’s murder, in early 1982, a little more than a year after her death. And even then, he told me, her murder was “not being as actively investigated as the others. Timeliness is everything, and the longer it is since a murder took place, the harder it becomes to solve. There’s no statute of limitations on a murder case; it’s never closed until it’s solved. But there are priorities, and the priorities are that after you examine as much as you can and are getting nowhere, you stop doing things.”

After the advent of DNA testing, a number of local cold cases were reopened, including Wyatt’s. In October 1996, nearly 90 potential suspects were contacted and interviewed, and some were asked to provide DNA samples, which were then tested against the seminal fluid that had been found on Michelle. Again, a suspect was not identified, and, again, the case went cold. But advances in DNA technology led to further testing in June 2000. This time, it was found that the seminal fluid on Michelle’s body had come from two sources. One of the DNA profiles was from Wyatt’s boyfriend, while the other came from an unidentified male. Michelle’s boyfriend was eliminated as a suspect, and her killer’s identity remained a mystery. A year later, the unknown suspect’s DNA was entered into the CODIS data base, but there was no hit. The case went cold again, and stayed that way for nearly two decades. Then Patterson took over the case in late 2019. In March 2020, the unknown DNA lifted from Michelle’s body was sent to another database, this one from the California Department of Justice, and a familial DNA search was conducted. “The DOJ tests the DNA against known perpetrators of other crimes, trying to give you a close relative,” Patterson said. “And the idea is that if this suspect’s brother, or father, has been arrested, then perhaps we would be able to learn the identity of the suspect.” But again, no hit.

In September 2020, after conferring with fellow members of the Sheriff’s Department Cold Case Team and senior crime and intelligence analyst Jeffrey Vandersip, the decision was made to make one last attempt at solving Michelle Wyatt’s murder, this time through investigative genetic genealogy. It’s a last resort that the Sheriff’s Department says is only utilized when all other methods have been exhausted. “Investigative genetic genealogy has been around for a while,” Vandersip said. “Genealogists use it to establish parentage. So people who are adopted and they’re looking for their birth parents, essentially, they would use genealogy to help find out who their parents are. In law enforcement cases, it’s the same concept. We take this unknown DNA, the suspect DNA. We get it analyzed by a commercial lab, because the type of analysis that’s done is very different than the kind of analysis that a crime lab does. And by commercial lab, I mean any one of those where you pay for a kit, you submit your own DNA, and then you do your work, like we do, to try to find out who your relatives are.”

In the case of Michelle Wyatt, the DNA that had been lifted from her body was sent to a commercial lab, Family Tree DNA. Family Tree is a competitor to industry leaders Ancestry and 23andMe, one that, according to its website, “pioneered the field of genetic genealogy — the use of DNA testing to establish relationships between individuals and determine ancestry.” Patterson and Vandersip then uploaded the results to GEDMatch, a DNA comparison and analysis website “for people who have tested their autosomal DNA using a direct-to-consumer genetic testing company, such as 23andMe... GEDmatch processes the file, adds it to a genealogical database, and provides applications for matching and further analysis.” Patterson, Vandersip and their Cold Case teammates used the results to identify upwards of 1000 relatives of the unknown suspect, based on “centimorgans,” which are units used to measure genetic distance between one person and another. Each human has about 7400 centimorgans. Explained Vandersip, “So you can go all the way up to, like, 3600 centimorgans, which would indicate a parent-child relationship, all the way down to close to zero, which would indicate who knows what – eighth cousins? So I believe our initial matches were less than 100 [centimorgans], and that would probably indicate third cousins – which is still fairly far away. I mean, how many third cousins do you know? So what that told us was, we still had a lot of work to do.”

Patterson and Vandersip used this data to build out family trees, centered around the four or five closest matches to the unknown suspect. They submitted one or two people’s DNA to the labs — with their consent. Most of other DNA profiles were moved from one commercial lab to another. The objective was to find other potential relatives and develop family histories. They had several “Eureka moments,” as Patterson calls them – including finding a second cousin of the unknown suspect and identifying who she was and where she lived. They began finding out everything they could about this cousin, all the while continuing to build family trees “before we contacted her, because we really just wanted to have a better sense of the family structure. The problem with her was, she might have been close enough to the suspect to know the suspect, so you’re not going to reach out to that person. And that’s kind of the caveat to this whole thing – you want a big hit, but if we get a big hit, they may know the suspect and you don’t want to tip your hand.”

Eventually, however, they did reach out to this cousin. “At some point, you’ve got to take that risk,” Vandersip says. “We realized, ‘We’re kind of running out of real estate here on our own. We need to take that chance.’”

Patterson adds, “It’s just awkward. I just lead off, ‘Hey, this is probably the most unusual phone call you’re ever going to get.’ Then I tell her who I am, and what I’m doing. We have a few of us in the room. I think that makes it better than just one person calling. And she was very cooperative.” At their request, Patterson says, the cousin submitted her DNA to Ancestry, the biggest of the DNA databases. “We can only use Ancestry for building trees – we can’t use it for DNA analysis,” Vandersip says. “But other people who are willing to help us can.” When the results came back, detectives found “a lot of high matches to people we had never come across in all our tree building,” Vandership recalls. “We’re like, who are these people? And they were not just distant relatives; these were close cousins. A whole family that was just new to us. And at this point, we realized we were probably looking for somebody who was the result of an affair.”

Detectives interviewed some of these newly discovered relatives, taking the same approach as they had with the second cousin. Patterson: “We just explain what we’re doing: ‘I’m building trees, and it looks like you’re related to the suspect in this homicide. You probably don’t know that person. It’s down the line. We’re just trying to eliminate people.’ And then you ask them if they’ve heard about investigative genetic genealogy. Most people actually have heard about this, or seen it on TV. You bring up the Golden State Killer, because that’s probably the best-known case that was solved by this. And then I just tell them, ‘You know, if I was a fraud, and I was trying to deceive you or steal from you, I would ask you for information. I don’t need any of your information. I have it all right here in front of me. You want to know your social security number? You want to know the last three places you lived? How do you think I got your phone number?’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, OK.’ And remember, the people we’re calling are interested in it also, because they are in the DNA database — they have some vested interest in it, because they were interested enough to put their DNA into these things.”

Eventually, the trail led to a half-sister, and then to Rusty, and the discovery “that he must have had a child that nobody knows about.” Through more testing they found the woman he impregnated on the movie set of How the West Was Won, and at last they had a name: John Patrick Hogan. “We were lucky with him,” Patterson says. “He died of a methamphetamine overdose in Phoenix, outside of a Marie Callender’s. And they did an autopsy. So I was able to get his DNA off of a blood card. They sent me a piece of the blood card. We tested it, and it was a match [with the DNA taken from Wyatt’s body].”

What does Patterson think happened that fateful night of October 9, 1980, when John Patrick Hogan murdered Michelle Wyatt? “Well, there was no forced entry, so one of two things,” he says. “She recognized him banging on the door, she looked and said, ‘Oh, I know this guy. Not a big deal.’ Maybe he needed something. Maybe he was asking for something. She lets him in. Or, her boyfriend had just left, and she thought he was coming back, so she opened the door. Maybe he was watching. Maybe he watched the boyfriend leave. Who knows? And then she maybe thought that was the boyfriend coming right back and just opened the door, not thinking, because people said she wouldn’t have opened that door for a stranger at 12:30, 12:45 at night... The assault happened right there, probably in the living room. I don’t think it went anywhere else. And then everything he used to kill her was right there...”

Patterson says all of Hogan’s relatives are resigned to the fact that he killed Wyatt, except for his first wife, the high school sweetheart and mother of his oldest daughter. She suggested the two had consensual sex, and then he left and someone else killed her. Patterson considers such a scenario highly unlikely: “She’s, like, really grasping. She doesn’t want to admit that her high school sweetheart was a killer.”


At the time of my Reader story, Wyatt’s mother Louise was frustrated at the lack of progress in finding her daughter’s killer. She wanted to know who did it, and why. “I’m pretty sure it was someone who wanted her body, someone who knew her and wasn’t getting what he wanted from her,” she told me at the time. “But if I could know for sure who killed Michelle, I could probably tell you why, too.” Now she does know who killed Wyatt, but that knowledge hasn’t brought closure. “When they came to the house and they told me they had found him, but he was dead from an overdose, my thought was, ‘Oh, shit.’ That made me mad. It was just about 41 years later that they found him. I wish he was alive. I’d go after him. I’d go after him. Oh, boy... People that say, ‘Hey, I got closure’ — I’m happy for them, because I can’t get that closure... It’s just...it’s horrible. And the thing that got me is that he killed himself on the same day as he killed Michelle.”

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“She loved the ocean. She was always moving, always on the go.”
“She loved the ocean. She was always moving, always on the go.”

Forty years ago, in March 1982, I wrote a Reader cover story about the brutal rape and murder of a 20-year-old college student named Michelle Wyatt in her Santee condominium. Part of that story concerned her mother’s frustration that after more than a year, the killer still had not been found. Last August, investigative genetic genealogy finally identified Michelle’s killer as a former neighbor named John Patrick Hogan. But there was no arrest, no trial, and no conviction, because Hogan had died 17 years earlier — ironically, on the very same day of the year, October 9, that he killed Wyatt.

Brian Patterson, who just retired after more than 26 years with the Sheriff’s Department — the last eleven in homicide — led the team of detectives that solved the case. It had been a cold case for years; during the initial investigation, 38 suspects had been interrogated and ultimately cleared — many years later — when their DNA was found not to match the killer’s, which had been found in Wyatt’s body. The case had been assigned to another detective, Patterson said, who had had no luck. Then, little over two years ago, Patterson was asked by a deputy district attorney with whom he was working on another case if he’d like to take another look. After reading up on the case, he agreed to take it on.

“I grew up in Santee, and the DA who had the other case with me also grew up in Santee,” Patterson said. “So I just took an interest in it, and when I read through the case, there were people in there I knew. So it was just kind of interesting. And everything had been done, for the most part. They had eliminated nearly forty people through DNA, and the main people they thought had done it were eliminated through DNA, so there wasn’t a whole lot to do on it. But then when genetic genealogy came about, that kind of opened the door.”

Investigative genetic genealogy is an emerging field of forensic science that essentially takes DNA testing to the next level. DNA was first used in a criminal case in 1986, and soon became standard practice because of its incredible accuracy in cases where biological evidence exists: blood, saliva, semen, skin underneath a victim’s fingernails, etc. According to the U.S. Justice Department Archives website, “DNA evidence is generally linked to DNA offender profiles through DNA databases. In the late 1980s, the federal government laid the groundwork for a system of national, state, and local DNA databases for the storage and exchange of DNA profiles. This system, called the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), maintains DNA profiles obtained under the federal, state, and local systems in a set of databases that are available to law enforcement agencies across the country... CODIS can compare crime scene evidence to a database of DNA profiles obtained from convicted offenders. CODIS can also link DNA evidence obtained from different crime scenes, thereby identifying serial criminals. In order to take advantage of the investigative potential of CODIS, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, states began passing laws requiring offenders convicted of certain offenses to provide DNA samples. Currently all 50 states and the federal government have laws requiring that DNA samples be collected from some categories of offenders.”

In cases like Michelle Wyatt’s murder, where DNA testing — performed years later, because it wasn’t around at the time of her death — found no match in any criminal database, investigative genetic genealogy can prove the critical next step. According to the Oxford Academic Journal of Law and the Biosciences, “the technique involves uploading a crime scene DNA profile to one or more genetic genealogy databases with the intention of identifying a criminal offender’s genetic relatives and, eventually, locating the offender within the family tree. IGG was used to identify the Golden State Killer in 2018 and it is now being used in connection with hundreds of cases in the USA.”


Michelle Wyatt was pretty, blonde and athletic. She had been born early in the morning of February 9, 1960 to Raymond and Louise Wyatt. The young family moved into a small apartment on Golden Hill, but by the time Wyatt was six, they had settled into a three-bedroom house on Regner Road in San Carlos near Grossmont College. She attended Gage Elementary, Pershing Junior High, and Patrick Henry High schools. Forty years ago, her mother told me, “She loved the ocean. She was always moving, always on the go.” Wyatt took up scuba diving and tap dancing. After graduating from Patrick Henry High School in 1978, she attended Grossmont College for one semester, sat out the next, and then enrolled at Mesa College, where, at the time of her death, she was trying to decide between a career in oceanography and one in the telecommunications and film industry.

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From my March 1982 Reader story: In the meantime, she was earning extra spending money, and later supporting herself, by working at a succession of part-time jobs — first at a McDonald’s in San Carlos, then at Winchell’s Donuts in Fletcher Hills, and finally as a checker at the Safeway store in Mission Village, on the mesa north of San Diego Stadium. She also loved working with children, and regularly taught a handful of neighborhood youngsters how to dance and play the organ. “I mentioned to her one time, ‘Honey, you could make so much more money by working more hours at Safeway than by giving dancing lessons’ — she only charged $3.50, which is far less than the going rate — but she said, ‘Mom, you don’t know the enjoyment I get out of it,’” Louise Wyatt said. “She was also teaching a little boy and a little girl how to play the organ. When she was killed, both of them dropped the instrument — they wanted nothing more to do with the organ because it reminded them of Michelle.”


John Patrick Hogan was born two years later than Wyatt, in 1962, and not much is known about his early years. But it is more than likely that he was conceived on the set of the How the West Was Won, an epic Western with an all-star cast that included John Wayne, James Stewart, Gregory Peck, and Debbie Reynolds. His dad, Rusty, was a contractor who built movie sets. It is believed that in 1961, he happened to be in Arizona, where filming had begun on the ambitious movie, which was nominated for eight Academy Awards and went on to win three. It was there on the set that he likely met Patrick’s mother, “who then raised the suspect” — John Patrick Hogan — “with another man, whose last name was Hogan,” Detective Patterson says. “He and his mother, with a newer husband, moved here in the middle ‘70s, and actually lived in the same complex as Michelle did,” Patterson says. “We found an ID bracelet he had given a relative, and it had the address on it. His mother had other kids, with Hogan and then with other men. They bounced back between California and Arizona. It was a pretty dysfunctional family; there are articles you can find about how the mom shot her husband — not Hogan. He survived; she did some time in jail.”

Patterson and his team were able to interview two of John Patrick Hogan’s relatives. “They were very helpful, but they definitely do not want their names out there,” Patterson said. The sisters told detectives that Hogan attended Santana High School and ran with the druggie crowd. He got his girlfriend pregnant while they were still in high school and wound up marrying her. “But her parents didn’t like him — go figure — so she lived with her parents and he lived wherever,” Patterson said. “Then he joined the Air Force and she moved with him to New Mexico. She was there for a little while, then she came back, and he took leave for a week in October and came back out here.”

Raymond and Louise Wyatt at the grave of their daughter, Michelle, at Mount Hope Cemetery.

Michelle Wyatt and Patrick Hogan’s paths crossed on the night of October 9, 1980, just a few days after Hogan had gotten back into San Diego from New Mexico. In January 1980, Wyatt’s father had let her and a roommate move into a condo he owned at 10586 Kerrigan Court in Santee. Michelle was ecstatic: as much as she loved her dad, her mom, and her little brother, Ray-J, she was excited to be on her own. Patterson: “[Hogan’s] connection to Michelle, we think, is that because he had lived in that complex, he knew people in that complex. He knew a guy who lived cater-corner from Michelle, and that guy used to play pool with her in her garage, because she had a pool table. So when I spoke to him, he goes, ‘Yeah, I know her and we saw her and I wanted to date her, but I was kind of scared because she’s an attractive lady.’ And then I brought up Patrick Hogan, and he’s talking and then all of a sudden it hits him why I brought up his name. And he goes, ‘Oh, are you telling me he did it?’ I told him it looks like he might have, and he says, ‘Well, of all the people I know, that’s the guy who could do something like that. But nobody ever asked about him.’”


From my 1982 Reader story: About eight o’clock on the evening of Wednesday, October 8, Michelle Wyatt left the Sue Hamilton School of Dance on El Cajon Boulevard, where she had been taking tap-dancing lessons three nights a week since she was seven, and drove home. There she was met by her boyfriend of four months, Patrick Acomb, who had just completed his last class of the day at Mesa College. The two had met the previous spring at the Safeway store where Michelle was working as a checker. Acomb, who at the time lived nearby, had started paying her regular visits before finally asking her out for a date in July. They began seeing each other regularly and grew quite close. Just a few days before she was murdered, when her mother half-jokingly asked, “Hey, Michelle, are you getting married?” Michelle rolled her eyes and, giggling, said, “Oh, Mom, you’re embarrassing me, but, yes. I’ve finally found the right one.”

John Patrick Hogan, killer of Michelle Wyatt.

Shortly after Acomb’s arrival, he and Michelle retreated to the condo’s garage, where they played three games of pool while talking about what each had done that day. Michelle had attended only two of her classes that morning, opting, instead of attending a third, to go running with her boyfriend before dance class, and she was fatigued. Still, she managed to beat Acomb in all three pool games, and on their way out of the garage she kidded him about her victories. After turning out the garage lights, they went back inside the condo through the sliding glass doors in the dining room and sat down in the living room to watch television. Acomb doesn’t recall whether they had locked the glass doors after their entry, and the question has repeatedly bothered him since. What he does remember clearly is that he left through the front door shortly before one the following morning, instructing Michelle, as he always did, to lock the door behind him. That was the last time anyone saw Michelle Wyatt alive. Less than an hour later, a neighbor reported hearing Michelle’s two collies barking furiously, accompanied by some yelling, but they didn’t investigate.

Just before five the next afternoon, Michelle’s roommate, who asked her name not be used, returned home from an overnight excursion and parked her car along the Kerrigan Court curb. She had moved in with Michelle the previous July.... The glare of the late afternoon sun was blinding to the roommate as she walked past the two rows of condos onto the strip of grass leading to her own front door... As she approached the condo, what she saw filled her with instant apprehension. “I knew something had to be wrong, because the lights were still on and the curtains were drawn,” the roommate recalled later. “Michelle always got up early, and she would never leave the house shut up like that. As I walked up to the front door, I remember thinking, this is weird, because the mail was still in the mailbox and the newspaper was on the ground outside the door. Then I opened the door and I saw her right away, and I knew immediately... I don’t know how, I just knew — instinct, maybe. You just know. I dropped everything I had in my hands — I dropped the newspaper, the mail, some books I had borrowed from a friend — and ran to a neighbor’s apartment across the lawn, all the while thinking, I must be dreaming. I called the police and then Mrs. Wyatt. I waited for the police outside the front door of the apartment I had run to. I wasn’t sure this had really happened, and I figured the police would tell me if it was true, if Michelle was really dead. When they told me, I just couldn’t believe it. All I could say, over and over, was, ‘Oh my God, Oh my God.’”


After the murder, Hogan returned to New Mexico. Very little is known of his later life, except that he got divorced, married a second time, had a second child, and died of a methamphetamine overdose on October 9, 2004, twenty-four years, to the day, after he murdered Wyatt. At the time of his death, he was forty-two.

Why did he kill her? “When you figure that out, let me know,” Patterson says. But if he doesn’t know the why, at least he knows the who. Hogan’s identity was announced by the department in an August 4, 2021 news release, and the local media took note. But they didn’t tell the story of how that identity was found.

Senior Crime and Intelligence Analyst Jeffrey Vandersip (with beard) and Detective Brian Patterson (who has just retired), both with the San Diego Sheriff’s Department.

When police arrived at the Santee condominium in response to the roommate’s phone call, they found Wyatt’s lifeless body just inside the front door. Her purse, and its contents, had been dumped out into the toilet. They collected evidence, dusted for fingerprints, and took lots of photos. The body was taken to the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office, where an autopsy determined that Wyatt had died of asphyxiation after having been strangled with a telephone cord. She had also been sexually assaulted, “and seminal fluid was recovered,” according to the news release.

The initial investigation into her murder went nowhere. This was six years before DNA’s first use in a criminal case, and at the time, detectives relied mostly on interrogating family members, friends, and acquaintances of the victim in an attempt to piece together what had happened and identify any potential suspects. According to the news release, “numerous potential suspects were identified and interviewed. After an exhaustive investigation, all leads were followed until the case went cold.” I had interviewed Sergeant Bill Baxter, who supervised the Sheriff’s Department’s ten homicide detectives at the time of Wyatt’s murder, in early 1982, a little more than a year after her death. And even then, he told me, her murder was “not being as actively investigated as the others. Timeliness is everything, and the longer it is since a murder took place, the harder it becomes to solve. There’s no statute of limitations on a murder case; it’s never closed until it’s solved. But there are priorities, and the priorities are that after you examine as much as you can and are getting nowhere, you stop doing things.”

After the advent of DNA testing, a number of local cold cases were reopened, including Wyatt’s. In October 1996, nearly 90 potential suspects were contacted and interviewed, and some were asked to provide DNA samples, which were then tested against the seminal fluid that had been found on Michelle. Again, a suspect was not identified, and, again, the case went cold. But advances in DNA technology led to further testing in June 2000. This time, it was found that the seminal fluid on Michelle’s body had come from two sources. One of the DNA profiles was from Wyatt’s boyfriend, while the other came from an unidentified male. Michelle’s boyfriend was eliminated as a suspect, and her killer’s identity remained a mystery. A year later, the unknown suspect’s DNA was entered into the CODIS data base, but there was no hit. The case went cold again, and stayed that way for nearly two decades. Then Patterson took over the case in late 2019. In March 2020, the unknown DNA lifted from Michelle’s body was sent to another database, this one from the California Department of Justice, and a familial DNA search was conducted. “The DOJ tests the DNA against known perpetrators of other crimes, trying to give you a close relative,” Patterson said. “And the idea is that if this suspect’s brother, or father, has been arrested, then perhaps we would be able to learn the identity of the suspect.” But again, no hit.

In September 2020, after conferring with fellow members of the Sheriff’s Department Cold Case Team and senior crime and intelligence analyst Jeffrey Vandersip, the decision was made to make one last attempt at solving Michelle Wyatt’s murder, this time through investigative genetic genealogy. It’s a last resort that the Sheriff’s Department says is only utilized when all other methods have been exhausted. “Investigative genetic genealogy has been around for a while,” Vandersip said. “Genealogists use it to establish parentage. So people who are adopted and they’re looking for their birth parents, essentially, they would use genealogy to help find out who their parents are. In law enforcement cases, it’s the same concept. We take this unknown DNA, the suspect DNA. We get it analyzed by a commercial lab, because the type of analysis that’s done is very different than the kind of analysis that a crime lab does. And by commercial lab, I mean any one of those where you pay for a kit, you submit your own DNA, and then you do your work, like we do, to try to find out who your relatives are.”

In the case of Michelle Wyatt, the DNA that had been lifted from her body was sent to a commercial lab, Family Tree DNA. Family Tree is a competitor to industry leaders Ancestry and 23andMe, one that, according to its website, “pioneered the field of genetic genealogy — the use of DNA testing to establish relationships between individuals and determine ancestry.” Patterson and Vandersip then uploaded the results to GEDMatch, a DNA comparison and analysis website “for people who have tested their autosomal DNA using a direct-to-consumer genetic testing company, such as 23andMe... GEDmatch processes the file, adds it to a genealogical database, and provides applications for matching and further analysis.” Patterson, Vandersip and their Cold Case teammates used the results to identify upwards of 1000 relatives of the unknown suspect, based on “centimorgans,” which are units used to measure genetic distance between one person and another. Each human has about 7400 centimorgans. Explained Vandersip, “So you can go all the way up to, like, 3600 centimorgans, which would indicate a parent-child relationship, all the way down to close to zero, which would indicate who knows what – eighth cousins? So I believe our initial matches were less than 100 [centimorgans], and that would probably indicate third cousins – which is still fairly far away. I mean, how many third cousins do you know? So what that told us was, we still had a lot of work to do.”

Patterson and Vandersip used this data to build out family trees, centered around the four or five closest matches to the unknown suspect. They submitted one or two people’s DNA to the labs — with their consent. Most of other DNA profiles were moved from one commercial lab to another. The objective was to find other potential relatives and develop family histories. They had several “Eureka moments,” as Patterson calls them – including finding a second cousin of the unknown suspect and identifying who she was and where she lived. They began finding out everything they could about this cousin, all the while continuing to build family trees “before we contacted her, because we really just wanted to have a better sense of the family structure. The problem with her was, she might have been close enough to the suspect to know the suspect, so you’re not going to reach out to that person. And that’s kind of the caveat to this whole thing – you want a big hit, but if we get a big hit, they may know the suspect and you don’t want to tip your hand.”

Eventually, however, they did reach out to this cousin. “At some point, you’ve got to take that risk,” Vandersip says. “We realized, ‘We’re kind of running out of real estate here on our own. We need to take that chance.’”

Patterson adds, “It’s just awkward. I just lead off, ‘Hey, this is probably the most unusual phone call you’re ever going to get.’ Then I tell her who I am, and what I’m doing. We have a few of us in the room. I think that makes it better than just one person calling. And she was very cooperative.” At their request, Patterson says, the cousin submitted her DNA to Ancestry, the biggest of the DNA databases. “We can only use Ancestry for building trees – we can’t use it for DNA analysis,” Vandersip says. “But other people who are willing to help us can.” When the results came back, detectives found “a lot of high matches to people we had never come across in all our tree building,” Vandership recalls. “We’re like, who are these people? And they were not just distant relatives; these were close cousins. A whole family that was just new to us. And at this point, we realized we were probably looking for somebody who was the result of an affair.”

Detectives interviewed some of these newly discovered relatives, taking the same approach as they had with the second cousin. Patterson: “We just explain what we’re doing: ‘I’m building trees, and it looks like you’re related to the suspect in this homicide. You probably don’t know that person. It’s down the line. We’re just trying to eliminate people.’ And then you ask them if they’ve heard about investigative genetic genealogy. Most people actually have heard about this, or seen it on TV. You bring up the Golden State Killer, because that’s probably the best-known case that was solved by this. And then I just tell them, ‘You know, if I was a fraud, and I was trying to deceive you or steal from you, I would ask you for information. I don’t need any of your information. I have it all right here in front of me. You want to know your social security number? You want to know the last three places you lived? How do you think I got your phone number?’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, OK.’ And remember, the people we’re calling are interested in it also, because they are in the DNA database — they have some vested interest in it, because they were interested enough to put their DNA into these things.”

Eventually, the trail led to a half-sister, and then to Rusty, and the discovery “that he must have had a child that nobody knows about.” Through more testing they found the woman he impregnated on the movie set of How the West Was Won, and at last they had a name: John Patrick Hogan. “We were lucky with him,” Patterson says. “He died of a methamphetamine overdose in Phoenix, outside of a Marie Callender’s. And they did an autopsy. So I was able to get his DNA off of a blood card. They sent me a piece of the blood card. We tested it, and it was a match [with the DNA taken from Wyatt’s body].”

What does Patterson think happened that fateful night of October 9, 1980, when John Patrick Hogan murdered Michelle Wyatt? “Well, there was no forced entry, so one of two things,” he says. “She recognized him banging on the door, she looked and said, ‘Oh, I know this guy. Not a big deal.’ Maybe he needed something. Maybe he was asking for something. She lets him in. Or, her boyfriend had just left, and she thought he was coming back, so she opened the door. Maybe he was watching. Maybe he watched the boyfriend leave. Who knows? And then she maybe thought that was the boyfriend coming right back and just opened the door, not thinking, because people said she wouldn’t have opened that door for a stranger at 12:30, 12:45 at night... The assault happened right there, probably in the living room. I don’t think it went anywhere else. And then everything he used to kill her was right there...”

Patterson says all of Hogan’s relatives are resigned to the fact that he killed Wyatt, except for his first wife, the high school sweetheart and mother of his oldest daughter. She suggested the two had consensual sex, and then he left and someone else killed her. Patterson considers such a scenario highly unlikely: “She’s, like, really grasping. She doesn’t want to admit that her high school sweetheart was a killer.”


At the time of my Reader story, Wyatt’s mother Louise was frustrated at the lack of progress in finding her daughter’s killer. She wanted to know who did it, and why. “I’m pretty sure it was someone who wanted her body, someone who knew her and wasn’t getting what he wanted from her,” she told me at the time. “But if I could know for sure who killed Michelle, I could probably tell you why, too.” Now she does know who killed Wyatt, but that knowledge hasn’t brought closure. “When they came to the house and they told me they had found him, but he was dead from an overdose, my thought was, ‘Oh, shit.’ That made me mad. It was just about 41 years later that they found him. I wish he was alive. I’d go after him. I’d go after him. Oh, boy... People that say, ‘Hey, I got closure’ — I’m happy for them, because I can’t get that closure... It’s just...it’s horrible. And the thing that got me is that he killed himself on the same day as he killed Michelle.”

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Comments

These crime investigations using DNA and family trees are truly amazing, and were almost unimaginable at the time the crimes were committed. This case is eerily similar to one that recently resulted in a conviction of a rapist/murderer who killed a waitress and go-go dancer in San Diego in 1969.

I recall this tragic case in part because I learned that the Wyatts lived close to where we lived on Highwood Drive at the time, just up and around the corner from their house, which we passed going and coming from ours. About a year after the murder, Louise Wyatt was reported--probably in the Evening Tribune--to be highly dissatisfied with the way the sheriffs department was handling--or not handling--the investigation. That department was noted at the time as having a weak homicide section, and not following usual investigative processes. (It can be argued that it hasn't improved since.)

One thing missing in this case is the idea that ALL the neighbors be contacted as quickly as possible. There were many neighbors, and as a result, many were missed due to the turnover of occupants in the complex. While it is a tedious process, such contacts are often the source of a lead that does identify the perpetrator.

Michelle was one of those young folks who wanted to "move out" at a time when it wasn't such a major undertaking. We seldom hear that mentioned nowadays. Sadly it led to her demise.

If the Duffy detectives had initially investigated this killing with the sort of diligence that these cold-case investigators went to work with DNA, they might very well have solved it then, and not forty one years later. I sympathize with Louise Wyatt's reaction upon learning that the killed is now identified.

June 10, 2022

Solving these crimes through DNA and family trees is amazing. Who would think it would lead to solving crimes like the Golden State Killer. It's never to late to solve a crime with DNA. It won't bring your loved one back, but hopefully it provides some comfort to the family.

I saw this case on TV recently, and I remember she opened the door at 1:00 a.m. just after her boyfriend left. Be careful opening your door. It might not be who you think it is.

June 10, 2022
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