State to test DNA in ’88 abduction, rape and murder of Girard woman

By Peter H. Milliken


A judge has ordered the state crime lab to do a DNA comparison in an attempt to solve a nearly 25-year-old murder case.

Judge John M. Durkin of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court has ordered the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation to compare DNA from semen found on Eileen Zarlenga, who was fatally stabbed, against all known Ohio DNA profiles.

On Monday, the judge ordered BCI to take this step toward the possible identification and arrest of a suspect in the Jan. 26, 1988, abduction, rape and murder of Zarlenga, 29, who resided in a Patricia Drive townhouse in Girard.

Police believe Zarlenga, who was stabbed 16 times, was lured from her home by a person or people she knew while her 3-year-old daughter slept in her home. The family, who has hired a private investigator, said Zarlenga never would have left the child alone.

Zarlenga’s body was found four days later in a wooded area near Gladstone Road in Jackson Township, Mahoning County.

Saying new evidence had been obtained, Crime Stoppers of Greater Youngstown offered a $5,000 reward in May 2010 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people who killed Zarlenga.

The case is being investigated by Girard police and the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office. Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 330-746-2583.

“Every now and then, we reopen the case and go over the evidence and see if we can find something,” said Mahoning County Sheriff Randall Wellington.

With DNA having been routinely collected in more recent years, Wellington and Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains said they hope whoever attacked Zarlenga has been required to put his DNA on file with the state because of a more recent criminal charge filed against him.

The state’s DNA database law took effect in 1996, initially to collect DNA only from violent felons. It was expanded in 2005 to collect it from anyone convicted of a felony and in 2011 to collect it from all adults arrested on felony charges. Now, the database contains 480,048 samples, according to a BCI spokeswoman.

“Hopefully, we’re going to be able to make a determination who the perpetrator was, and, obviously, prosecute him, assuming that he’s still alive. We don’t shy away from these old cases,” Gains said.

Gains declined to comment on the evidence in the Zarlenga case but said he hopes someone calls Crime Stoppers and that the perpetrator’s DNA is in the database. “If it isn’t, then we’ll just have to wait,” Gains said.

In another notable case, DNA from long-preserved evidence was used against Bennie L. Adams, 55, who was convicted in a 2008 jury trial in the strangulation murder of 19-year-old Youngstown State University student Gina Tenney, whose frozen body was found floating in the Mahoning River in Youngstown in 1985.

Adams was sentenced to death in that case, and he remains on death row in the Chillicothe Correctional Institution. The 7th District Court of Appeals upheld Adams’ conviction and death sentence last year.

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.