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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – A private investigator thinks a bloody fingerprint on a murder weapon could change what we know about one of St. Louis’ most gruesome murders.

Crime Watch Daily featured this story Monday. A private investigator wants to test the partial fingerprint against the now executed Tommy Lynn Sells, a serial killer who`s family was in St. Louis during the time of the murder. Sells was also reportedly in and out of the area in 1982.

Rodney Lincoln is serving time for the murder of JoAnn Tate. No physical evidence links him to it, but a 7-year-old who survived, picked him out of a photo lineup. Decades later, she told Crime Watch Daily she stands by her memory.

Melissa said, “I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Rodney Lincoln killed my mom and tried to kill me and my sister.”

Lincoln had already served time for killing a man during a fight, but he continues to deny the murder of the single mom, which included a knife attack on two children.

From prison, Rodney Lincoln said, “God knows I’m no angel. Yes, I killed a man. Never in my life could I, or would I harm a child. No way.”

Lincoln`s daughter Kay points out that the young girl told police the attacker was named Bill.

Kay Lincoln, “Yes, well she said mom yelled out the name and also she and the 4-year-old both identified this man by name as if they knew him. They said he had been there few days before working on their mom`s car. They knew the man.”

While “Bill” also isn`t the name of serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells, Sells did repair cars in St. Louis, according to private investigator Bill Clutter.

“We can place him in St. Louis at the time of the crime, “Clutter said. He says the killing also looks like the work of Sells. Clutter added, “We identified over a dozen cases where the m.o. is identical to this case where Rodney Lincoln was convicted.

A key could be a partial fingerprint on a knife. Kay Lincoln added, “There was a fingerprint that I never knew about till 2004, that a police detective said oh that`s Rodney Lincoln`s print and then he withdrew that identification. I mean the scene was a scene from hell. There was blood everywhere. There`s DNA everywhere, there`s several unidentified fingerprints at the scene. There`s nothing that points to Rodney Lincoln there. Nothing at all.”

The St. Louis Circuit Attorney`s office reviewed the case about a decade ago, looking to see if new DNA technology could give new answers.

Kay Lincoln added, “They reviewed over 1400 cases, chose 6 and my dad`s was one of them. Then after a ten month review of his case they said no there`s nothing here that will provide conclusive proof of guilt or innocence so they closed it.”

Today, the circuit attorney`s office says there’s not enough on the partial fingerprint to compare it to anyone. Private investigator Clutter says he has an expert who will compare it to the fingerprints of serial killer Sells, but they need a court order to get Sells` prints from the State of Texas, where they`re on file.

Watch the full Crime Watch Daily report at

Statement from Assistant St. LouisCircuit Attorney Ed Postawko:

Jennifer Joyce and the Circuit Attorney’s Office have a serious commitment to conviction integrity. At the start of her term, Joyce launched the DNA Justice Project, which was a proactive review of 1400 old convictions to determine whether the application of recently available DNA technology could potentially vindicate any convicted defendant, including the case involving Rodney Lincoln.

Over the last several years, we have worked closely with the Midwest Innocence Project on the Rodney Lincoln case. We have been open to ensuring that the correct person has been held accountable for the death of JoAnn Tate and the brutal assault of her two daughters. Contrary to your statement, at no time did we agree to test the partial fingerprint from the scene or any DNA against Mr. Tommy Lynn Sells. Given this clarification, here is what we have concluded.

Bloody Fingerprint on the Knife

· Through our work with the Midwest Innocence Project, we had three knives and a piece of door frame with a bloody print found in Ms. Tate’s apartment tested, including the partial fingerprint found on the knife that was used to kill Ms. Tate. In 2012, these items were sent to the Kansas City Police Department Crime Laboratory to determine if new fingerprint technology could provide any additional information that was unavailable at the time of the trials. The visible patent prints of the murder weapon were analyzed and determined to be of no value for identification. The knife was processed for latent prints with no prints of value for identification developed. None of the items provided any data upon which a fingerprint comparison could be made.
Mitochondrial DNA Profile of Mr. Tommy Lynn Sells

· In response to recent requests the Circuit Attorney’s Office has conducted further review of the evidence in this case and consulted with lab personnel with expertise in DNA. We have ascertained that, due to limitations in mitochondrial DNA analysis, we would be unable to determine if Mr. Sells was the distinct owner of the hair found at the crime scene. Even if we were to be able to determine that this hair came from a member of Mr. Sells’ family, we have no evidence that the perpetrator had any contact with the blanket and no evidence that the owner of the hair was in Ms. Tate’s home the night of the murder. Review of the evidence in this matter over the past 12 years has shown the hair evidence to be of little to no value in establishing the identity of the perpetrator.


· There are no usable fingerprints from which we could make a comparison with Mr. Sells’ fingerprints, and given the current deterioration of the hair evidence, we would be unable to determine if Mr. Sells was the specific owner of hair.

Despite the best efforts of the Midwest Innocence Project, they were unable to find evidence that exonerated Mr. Lincoln or even pointed to another suspect. There is no evidence in this case that Mr. Sells knew Ms. Tate, and it was very clear from the evidence presented at trial that the killer was known to Ms. Tate and her daughters.

We have confidence in the investigation that supported the prosecution of Mr. Lincoln. We continue to have confidence in the eye-witness identification of Mr. Lincoln as the perpetrator, just as the jury did at the trial.

We understand your desire to seek answers proving your belief in Mr. Rodney Lincoln’s innocence in this murder. I suggest you contact the Midwest Innocence Project, as their attorneys spent numerous hours reviewing every detail of this case and the evidence. Despite their best efforts, they were unable to find evidence that exonerated Mr. Lincoln or pointed to another suspect.

In addition, there is no evidence in this case that Mr. Sells knew Ms. Tate, and it was very clear from the evidence presented at trial that the killer was known to Ms. Tate and her daughters. Given the lack of any other compelling evidence that ties Mr. Sells to this crime, we do not have the legal resources to track down Mr. Sells’ mitochondrial DNA for future comparison when we believe the outcome of that test would not provide the required evidence to question the jury’s decision in this matter.