Montgomery County cold-case murder suspect killed during arrest attempt

Police in Montgomery County, Maryland, believed that they finally solved a cold-case killing dating back almost 28 years. But an attempt to arrest the suspect ended in his death.

On Wednesday, Montgomery County police officers, who are members of the U.S. Marshals Task Force, approached 51-year-old Hans Huitz as he sat in his car on Maitland Drive in Virginia Beach.

Police were going to arrest him on charges of first-degree murder, felony murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon.

Officers were negotiating his surrender when Virginia Beach police said Huitz pulled out a gun.

“That ultimately resulted in officers using deadly force against Mr. Huitz, and he did succumb to his injuries at the scene,” said Montgomery County police spokesman Rick Goodale. “We’re just thankful that, in this encounter, that no officers were hurt.”

The charges against Huitz date back to a March 22, 1992 incident. Fifty-seven-year-old James Essel was killed inside the Sugarloaf Mountain Market in Comus, which he owned and operated.

A customer found him dead behind the checkout counter covered in blood. He had been stabbed 29 times.

His death remained unsolved for decades, but in 2017, Parabon NanoLabs used DNA recovered from the crime scene to create sketches of what the killer might look like.

Last month, police identified Huitz as a possible suspect. On Tuesday, they took a DNA sample from him.

Analysis of that sample positively identified Huitz as the suspect in Essel’s death.

Advances in DNA testing have helped Montgomery County police solve several cold cases and serious crimes recently.

“It just goes to show you that our detectives never stop working no matter how old the case is,” Goodale said. “I think this may actually be a trend, where you’re going to see police departments across the country solving cold-case crimes through the advanced DNA technology.”

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter turned morning anchor at WTOP News.

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