Alaskan officials identified the killer in 1996 cold case murder of teenage girl; Arkansas suspect commits suicide

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AUSTIN, Ark. — A man living in Central Arkansas has been linked to a cold murder case in Alaska.

After years of investigation, several law enforcement agencies worked together to find the suspect who later committed suicide. In a joint effort, the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office and the Arkansas State Police worked with Alaskan officials to close a 24-year-old case.

“I’m thankful that the family and friends of Jessica Baggen will hopefully receive an element of closure,” Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price said.

This case dates back to 1996 when police say 17-year-old Jessica Baggen disappeared in the early morning hours in May. Her body was found two days later. Now after years of searching, answers were found.

“In February 2019, a sniff DNA profile was developed and uploaded into public genealogy databases, after several months of research a new subject was submerged, Steve Branch,” Alaska State Trooper Major David Hanson said.

Alaska State Troopers named 66-year-old Steve Branch of Austin, Arkansas as the suspect who sexually assaulted and murdered Baggen.

“The plan was to secure a DNA sample directly from Branch with a search warrant, and if it matches investigators would Branch in custody and charge him with Jessica’s murder,” Hanson said. “However only 30 minutes after the Alaskan investigators left the residence, branch committed suicide.”

Police say Branch killed himself on August 3, after denying to investigators that he had any knowledge of the crime and refusing to provide a DNA sample for comparison.

After securing a search warrant, Alaskan officials obtained Branch’s DNA that was collected during his autopsy.

On Monday, Alaskan officials confirmed Branch’s DNA matched the suspect DNA found on Baggen and at the scene. Tuesday they gave more details at a press conference.

“Nothing will ease the pain that Jessica’s family and friends have def for the years,” Price said.

Price said no matter how old the cases are, they will continue to work to bring justice for families.

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