Mississippi man arrested in 1987 murder of Pinellas County woman, cold case detectives say

Booking photo by Michael Lapniewski Jr. Courtesy: Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

Advances in DNA testing helped link a Mississippi man to a 1987 murder in Pinellas County, investigators say.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said its cold case unit arrested 55-year-old Michael Lapniewski Jr. for the murder of 82-year-old Opal Weil. Cold case detectives said they had been investigating the case for several years.

According to detectives, deputies first responded to a home in unincorporated St. Petersburg on February 9, 1987. Weil was found dead by her sister-in-law after she didn’t answer her phone, Pinellas County lawmakers said.

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Weil had obvious signs of trauma, and deputies said they discovered the suspect fled the scene before they arrived.

As early as 1987, detectives said the suspect got into the home after removing a single pane of glass and entering the residence’s Florida room. According to investigators, the telephone line in the house had also been cut.

Forensic scientists at the time were collecting evidence left at the crime scene, including several hairs, detectives said. A partial DNA profile from the hair was developed during the investigation, but no matches were identified until recently, according to the PCSO.

Pinella’s Cold Case investigators were assigned to the case in December 2020 and said they had sent a request to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for additional testing of those hairs. They also said they contacted Parabon Nanolabs to conduct genealogical testing.

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Parabon Nanolabs’ tests were able to create family trees, and they were able to identify family relatives, narrowing down to three possible male suspects, according to detectives.

The PCSO’s Cold Case Unit ruled out two suspects, leaving Lapniewski as the prime suspect. Detectives said he lived half a mile from the home where the 1987 murder occurred.

Pinellas County detectives traveled to Waveland, Mississippi after learning that Lapniewski was currently residing there. They obtained his DNA, which was submitted to the FDLE for analysis, and it matched evidence at the crime scene.

PCSO said detectives arrested Lapniewski Jan. 26 in Mississippi and extradited him to Pinellas County, where he faces charges of first-degree murder.

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