COLD CASE ARREST: Waveland man charged in 1987 Florida murder
WAVELAND, Miss. (WLOX) - For 36 years, the murder of 82-year-old Opal Weil in St. Petersburg, Fla. has gone unsolved. But advancements in DNA testing have given investigators a new lead in the cold case that points to Waveland.
Michael Lapniewski, Jr., 55, of Waveland, was arrested January 26, 2023 and charged with First-Degree Murder.
According to detectives, on February 9, 1987, deputies were called to a home in unincorporated St. Petersburg to investigate a death. Opal Weil’s sister-in-law had been trying to call her. When she never answered the phone, the sister-in-law stopped by her house and found her dead. Her body showed obvious signs of trauma.
Detectives at that time said the killer got into the home by removing a single windowpane, and that the home’s phone line was cut.
Forensic technicians collected evidence left at the scene, including several hairs. They developed a partial DNA profile, but couldn’t find a match.
The case would sit dormant for decades until December 2020. That’s when the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office cold case detectives picked up the assignment. One of their first moves was a request additional testing of the hairs located at the scene.
After extensive testing was done by Parabon NanoLabs, family trees were constructed, and relatives were identified. From there, the DNA evidence narrowed down the suspects to three possible men. After extensive investigation, detectives excluded two of the them, leaving Lapniewski as the primary suspect. At the time of the murder, Lapniewski lived just half a mile away.
But that was 1987. In 2020, Lapniewski lived in Waveland, Miss. So detectives traveled west for the next step in their investigation: obtaining Lapniewski’s DNA and submitting it to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for analysis.
That’s when detectives found Lapniewski’s DNA matched the profile developed from the evidence at the scene. Two years after they started their search for a killer, and more than three decades after the murder, the cold case team made an arrest.
Lapniewski was taken into custody in Waveland and extradited to Florida where he is charged with First-Degree Murder. He’s being held in the Pinellas County Jail without bond, awaiting trial.
Want more WLOX news in your inbox? Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.
Copyright 2023 WLOX. All rights reserved.