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Technology helping solve 25-year-old murder

Using updated technology helps police turn up the heat on cold cases and that means fewer people are getting away with murder.

Someone beat a Valley man and left him for dead more than 25 years ago. Now new technology and old-fashioned police work are bringing detectives closer than ever to finding Andy Elam’s killer.

“He seemed like a live and let live person, and just doing the best that he could for himself and for his family and for his fellow man so for this to happen it doesn’t make any sense,” said Riverside County Sheriff Investigator Lester Harvey.

“He was my only son,” said Andy’s father, Billy Dean.

Andrew Elam, or Andy as his friends called him, just finished his first year of college.

“He was practically a straight “A” student. He had aspirations of being a veterinarian,” said Harvey.

“He really liked to run, too. I guess he got that from me,” said Dean.

Andy’s father, who now goes by his pen name “Billy Dean,” says the family moved to Cathedral City just so Andy could join a cross-country team.

“We had some satisfying runs together, he was a good kid,” said Dean.

Dean started running ultra marathons and made it a habit to train on the Pacific Crest Trail off Highway 74 near Highway 371.

“A lot of times on the weekends he would go up there and run with me,” said Dean.

That’s where the 19-year-old and his parents went the morning of June 17th, 1989.

“They were an outdoors type of family, and they were going to collectively walk and jog and spend the early morning hours along the trails,” said Harvey.

Andy planned to run with his dad for awhile then turn back and let the dog out of the car, while his mom did a 10-mile section.

“I was going to be up there for 2 1/2, 3 hours running up that thing,” said Dean.

After 20 minutes Andy headed back as planned.

“I gave him a hug goodbye,” said Dean.

That was the last time anyone saw Andy alive.

When Andy’s parents came off the trail they found their dog running loose, their car had clearly been broken into, but Andy was nowhere to be found.

“We spent some time looking around for him, I glad we didn’t find him.”

But, deputies did, in the brush about 300 yards from the trail.

“People were a little afraid, just didn’t know whether it was a random murder or … it did affect the community,” said Dolores Sizer.

Dolores Sizer, now with the Idyllwild Town Crier, moved to the mountain community just a few months after Andy’s murder.

“There was a lot of talk going on, and we didn’t know anyone up here so we relied on the newspaper to see what was going on with the homicide and just followed it until it kind of faded away,” said Sizer.

But it never faded away for the detectives working Andy’s case.

“Definitely in my heart I feel that it is a very solvable case,” said Harvey.

The cold case detective says over two decades of forensic innovation makes the difference.

“A lot of physical evidence, a lot of good physical evidence that we have managed to preserve and continue to test and remain hopeful that with everything we have entered into our database system we will get a connect. We will get a hit, we will get a link that will allow us to continue to reach out and talk to more people and ultimately apprehend our suspect,” said Harvey

The suspect could resemble a witness sketch of a man seen in the area during the time of Andy’s death.

“Our person of interest is still our person of interest,” said Harvey

“I can’t imagine how that will impact me to actually be there in that courtroom when that guy gets taken down,” said Dean.

Andy’s mother passed away without knowing who killed her son and Dean says he’s come to terms with the fact that may happen to him, too.

“I should be optimistic about it, but I’m not you know,” said Dean.

In the months following Andy’s murder, friends and family teamed up with the U.S. Forest Service to improve safety on the trail and build a memorial.

“I am really appreciative that they did it,” said Dean. “It’s nice that he is still in the world somehow, I like that.”

Although Andy’s parent’s couldn’t bring themselves to visit it.

“I did not want to go back, and didn’t,” said Dean.

Now 26 years later, Dean has plans to go back and Detective Harvey wants that trip to include some answers.

“That is a tribute I would like to pay to Andy’s family,” said Harvey.

“I hope they catch this person, they took a young boy and they shouldn’t have,” said Sizer.

“I think the world lost a good guy,” said Dean.

If you don’t want Andy Elam’s killer to get away with murder and know anything about this crime contact the Homicide Hotline (951) 955-2777.

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