It took 40 years for the family of Lorraine Snell to receive an update about the status of her murder case. It was on September 25, 1980, when the newly-engaged Lorraine met up with her cousin’s husband, James Burrus, at the Midwood Terrace catering hall on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to reserve the space for a party for her fiancée. The two were seen leaving the location together at 11:00 p.m. and that was the last time Lorraine Snell was seen alive.
There was nothing abnormal about the evening for the 19-year-old, but 12 hours later, Lorraine’s body was located in the back of a station wagon parked behind a grocery store. The vehicle belonged to the owner of the market. There was a cable around Lorraine’s neck and later, it was confirmed that she’d been strangled to death.
Meanwhile, when Lorraine’s mother awoke the following morning and discovered that the teen didn’t make it home, she immediately called authorities. Unsurprisingly, they questioned Burrus about the timeline of that evening and there was reportedly a gap in time that was unaccounted for. What helped solidify Burrus as a suspect was that he was employed at the grocery store where Lorraine’s body was located.
However, there wasn’t enough information to arrest, so Burrus walked free. Decades later, a new set of eyes reexamined the death of Lorraine Snell and the Cold Case Squad believed they may have enough to bring closure to this case. They found that DNA had been collected from under Lorraine’s fingernails, so authorities visited the now-64-year-old Burrus for a sample of his DNA.
At the time, Burrus was living in New York and was the pastor of By Divine Purpose Christian Center on Staten Island. Authorities spoke with and once again questioned him about the evening leading up to Lorraine’s death. He reportedly told a similar story to the one he gave years prior, and when investigators asked, he agreed to submit his DNA for testing. Burrus’s DNA reportedly matched that of what was collected from under Lorraine Snell’s fingernails 40 years prior.
“Those cops checked me from head to toe,” Burrus told PIX11 in 2014. “They had a guy come in to pick under my nails.”
After a yearslong investigation where detectives revisited surviving witnesses, on March 12, 2020, James Burrus was arrested for the murder of Lorraine Snell. He pleaded not guilty and has reportedly maintained his innocence.
District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said at the time, “My thoughts today are with Lorraine Snell’s mother, Pearl, who has waited for decades to see her daughter’s killer brought to justice. With this indictment, the result of a thorough reinvestigation of the case and the evidence, including a crucial DNA association, we will now seek to hold the defendant accountable. I commend the NYPD and my Cold Case Unit for the meticulous work they did to put this case together.”
This case is ongoing. I must note that James Burrus is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law and at the time of this publication has not been convicted of any crime tied to this case.
Please share this story about Lorraine Snell as a testimony that no one should give up hope with cold cases. She is our sister and her life matters.
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