Back when NYPD crime scene Dets. Gerald Donohue and David Jackle were on the job in 1980, they didn't have tools like DNA technology or fast computers to help them. So, when they showed up at a homicide scene in Queens, they followed their normal procedures and lifted a few fingerprints. But the investigation stalled, the trail grew cold and both detectives eventually retired.
But Wednesday, more than 30 years after Jackle and Donohue's work on the Flushing apartment of 73-year-old slaying victim Cecil Schiff, their routine fingerprinting paid off with the indictment of a suspect who happened to be in state prison on a different case, officials said.
Ernest Mattison, 49, formerly of Kissena Boulevard, Flushing, has been indicted in the Sept. 10, 1980 murder, said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. Mattison was arraigned on second-degree murder charges stemming from the push-in robbery and was ordered held without bail, Brown said. Mattison's attorney could not be reached.
According to NYPD Det. Oscar Hernandez of the Queens cold case unit, officers restarted the investigation in April 2009 and ran the old prints through a new computer system that came up with 10 possible matches. Three other detectives working in concert then focused on one set and confirmed they had a match that traced back to Mattison, said Hernandez, who lives in Wantagh.
"They were very comfortable with the case," said Hernandez about Queens prosecutors.
State prison records show Mattison is serving a 10-year sentence in a 2009 Ulster County robbery conviction and was due to be released as early as 2017.
The slaying took place just as Schiff returned from a shopping trip. His wife found him sitting in a chair, bleeding from the head, investigators said. Brown said the bedroom had been ransacked and jewelry and other valuables were missing.
Detectives on the reopened case have tried to track down any of Schiff's next of kin, but they discovered that both his wife and one daughter had died. Cops are asking anyone who may have been related to Schiff to contact the cold case squad or Queens prosecutors.
Jackle, 78, who now lives in Nassau County, said he appeared before the grand jury about two weeks ago to verify that the crime scene had been processed and fingerprints taken.
"In those days we were very busy," said Jackle, adding that Donohue had retired out west.
Hernandez said that when Jackle and Donohue were working, DNA technology was in its infancy so there were no genetic samples to gather and store. Fingerprints also had to be laboriously examined by hand. But with computerization, the prints ultimately proved to be the key in breaking the case.
"They did a wonderful job," said Hernandez of the two retired detectives. "If it wasn't for their prints it would be an open job right now."