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Salt Lake City cold case solved: Killer has been dead for years

Published April 28, 2012 8:19 pm

Crime • DNA proves truck driver killed 18-year-old; he killed himself 2 days later.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

After 20 years of searching for a suspect in the cold case murder of a Salt Lake City woman, police discovered the killer is dead — and has been for the duration of the investigation.

Police in January closed the case of Danielle Lorene Anderson, an 18-year-old woman who was strangled at a Salt Lake City motel in November 1992.

"I miss my daughter," said Darryl Anderson, Danielle's father, during a recent phone interview with The Salt Lake Tribune.

Darryl Anderson said the family was glad to have closure. "Hats off to everybody" on the homicide team for doing their job, he said. "They did it well, stuck to it and brought resolution."

The father doesn't hold a grudge or harsh feelings for anyone involved in the case.

"She was murdered, there is no way that anything is going to bring her back. To hold hard feelings is a waste of time," he said.

DNA evidence has proven Anderson's killer was a trucker named John Morlang, 30, who killed himself in Arizona shortly after committing the crime, according to police.

On Nov. 18, 1992, police responded to a report of a body in a room at a Super 8 Motel at 161 S. 200 West, according to police records obtained through a state records request.

Motel guests on the floor below told police that in the early morning hours they heard loud voices, and doors and furniture being banged around. They also heard a woman calling out a man's name and what sounded like a head being pounded against the floor and sounds of gagging or choking. The door to the room was then loudly closed, witnesses told police.

Motel staffers found Anderson on the floor strangled with a gold necklace.

Anderson was a happy child and outgoing teenager, according to a family member who spoke of her sister during a 1992 interview. But after turning to drugs at age 13, she lived a life that involved marijuana, cocaine, heroin and prostitution, the family member said.

In 1992, Anderson twice pleaded guilty to prostitution-related charges.

After Anderson was found dead in the motel room, police clipped her fingernails — gathering evidence that would eventually point to Morlang.

But in the intervening years, police focused on Anderson's boyfriend — who witnesses say was angry at her that night — and others who were close to her. But the case went cold.

In 2005, the case was opened again and police requested DNA from the boyfriend. But he was not a match to the DNA found on Anderson's fingernails clippings. The DNA of several other individuals also was compared to the evidence, but there were no matches.

The focus then shifted back to a suspect police had known about from the beginning.

During their initial investigation, police had been tipped to look at a truck driver named John Morlang as a suspect. Morlang was in the Salt Lake City area the night of the homicide and was looking for a prostitute. But police had never interviewed him, according to reports.

Over time, investigators learned Morlang was long dead. He had killed himself about two days after Anderson's murder.

A suicide note left by Morlang indicated he had done "something terrible in Salt Lake and he couldn't live with himself," police reports state.

Police then re-interviewed witnesses from the time of the slaying. They learned that on the night of the murder, Morlang had returned to the truck yard and that his co-workers could see he was upset, according to recent police reports.

Morlang's suicide note subsequently provided a DNA sample which proved a match to the DNA found beneath Anderson's fingernails.

cimaron@sltrib.com

Twitter: @CimCity