New Hope in 1980 Child Murder: Could Genetic Genealogy Find Alicia O’Reilly’s Killer?

It has been more than 40 years since the six-year-old was killed in her bed, but a landmark ruling may finally see the case solved.

Verity Partington
4 min readAug 12


Alicia O’Reilly, murdered in 1980 (Image: New Zealand Police)

Detectives in New Zealand investigating the cold case murder of a six-year-old girl are hopeful that the decision to allow them to use advanced forensic technology on the evidence could see a suspect finally being named.

Genetic genealogy has been a revelation in a number of cold case murders in the US so far — most notably the Golden State Killer case — but its use has been controversial in New Zealand up until now due to privacy concerns.

However, the authorities have now granted permission to use the technology for Alicia O’Reilly’s case, meaning evidence that only recently came to light could prove crucial.

A shocking murder

Alicia O’Reilly was six and lived in Avondale with her mother Nancye and sister Juliet, who was eight. There was also an 18-year-old boarder named Isobel, who would sometimes help Nancye to look after the girls, the NZ Herald reported.

On the night of August 15th 1980, the children went to bed in the room they shared as usual — but the next morning, Alicia didn’t get up early as she usually did. When Nancye’s boyfriend Nigel went to check on her, he made a horrifying discovery.

Alicia lay dead in her bed, having been brutally raped and suffocated to death during the night. Chillingly, Juliet had been in her own bed mere feet away, but had apparently slept through the vicious assault and remained unharmed.

Police immediately launched a murder investigation and began to question hundreds of potential suspects. A breakthrough came when pubic hairs were discovered at the crime scene and linked to a particular blood type, as well as being thought to be of Māori or Pacific Island descent.

Crucially, the hair follicles held another clue: they contained antimony, cobalt, chromium, barium and iron, which the NZ Herald explained meant the killer probably worked in one of the community’s many industrial ceramic or paint factories.



Verity Partington

A writer and author of crime thrillers living in the UK. Partial to books, stationery, papercrafts and walking. You can find her books on Amazon here: https://a