Police Had DNA of Noa Eyal's Murderer - but Couldn't Find Him

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Two weeks ago, the family and friends of Noa Eyal marked the 10th anniversary of her murder. The police apparently have done everything possible to solve the rape and murder of the Jerusalem teen, amassing nearly 40 binders and cartons of evidence, testimony and other materials in the case. Hundreds of witnesses were deposed, likenesses were created and American spy satellites were even pulled into the search, but not a shred of evidence leading to the killer has been found.

The team that is currently trying to find the person (or persons) who persuaded Eyal to get into their car in downtown Jerusalem late at night and then raped and murdered her, dumping her body on the city outskirts, is the third to work on the case. "The police have indeed worked, but it was obvious that they aren't exactly the FBI, and from the start our expectations weren't high," Noa's father, Dr. Avi Eyal, says.

One night in late February, Noa Eyal, 17, a 12th-grader at Ort Ramot, went to a movie downtown with a friend, Eldad Bribrom. When it let out, he walked Eyal to her bus stop, at Davidka Square, and continued on to his own stop.

Bribrom told detectives later that from the window of his bus, he saw Eyal running for a bus that was not the one for which she had been waiting. Detectives believe, based on additional evidence, that Eyal ended up waiting for the bus to her home in Ramot. The street was empty but for a taxi driver and two yeshiva students. The cabdriver told detectives that he noticed a pretty girl at the stop and that he saw a white car nearby, probably a Ford Escort, with tinted windows and several bumper stickers on the rear windshield, including one for the Golani Brigade. He said the driver began talking with Eyal, who approached the car and eventually got in.

The statement by the taxi driver, which he gave after undergoing a memory recall procedure, became the foundation for the entire investigation. Another witness insisted that Eyal got on the bus at Davidka Square with him but alighted afterward and hitched a ride. A source close to the original investigation said the witness described Eyal accurately and said that they were the only passengers on the bus. In any event, today the police deny any knowledge of the claim that Eyal hitched a ride from any place other than Davidka Square.

The search began early the next morning, when Eyal's parents realized that she had not returned home the previous night. That evening, classmates found her body in the Ramot Forest.

A special police investigative team was formed. DNA from the perpetrator was found at the scene, as were other items such as cloth fragments thought to belong to him. The investigators initially focused on tracking down the last people to see Eyal alive, which led them to Bribrom and then to the cabdriver. Despite a gag order, a local paper published details of the investigation, including a description of the white Escort with the bumper stickers.

"I can point to that event and say that that is where the investigation went awry," Yitzhak Vishnia of the Central District Police, who is supervising the investigation, says. "If not for that damaging disclosure, today the murderer would be behind bars. We would have found that car."

The detectives are still very frustrated about the interference the media exposure caused, but Eyal's father is not convinced that the "Ford Escort theory" is the key to the case. "We have no irrefutable proof that she got into that car. The witness said he thought it was a Ford, but it is by no means certain. What is certain is the matter of the stickers," Eyal says. He describes an incident that occurred about a week after the murder. "At midday I got a call from a man I didn't know, who identified himself as a taxi driver. He said he was near the Israel Television building in Romema and saw a Ford Escort with stickers, including a Golani sticker. He told me the passengers were scraping off the stickers with a utility knife. He didn't know whether the car was theirs or whether they had just bought it, but I think it was the right car. I called the police immediately, but I don't know how they dealt with it," Eyal says.

The taxi driver who saw Eyal the night she was murdered insisted there were two yeshiva students near the bus stop, but the police never found them. The detectives claim they did everything in their power to find the men. "We went to synagogues and yeshivas but we never found them," the current head of the investigation team, Oded Yaniv, says.

"They were two very important witnesses and I still don't understand how it is that they were never located," Eyal's father says.

Successive Jerusalem police chiefs have declared that solving Eyal's murder tops their agendas, and the case has nagged at many detectives in the capital. The murder was even recreated for "Beshidur Hoker," the Israeli version of "Unsolved Mysteries," but it brought in no new leads.

Over the years, arrests were made in the case, but all the suspects were released after it was shown they had no connection to the case. "One problem is that the murder scene no longer exists," Yaniv says. "It's now a paved road."

About two years ago, some new information concerning the Ford Escort came to light. The case was reopened, and then-commander of the Central District, Ilan Franco, announced this at a briefing for reporters. "I was amazed to hear that it led the news programs," Franco recalls. "Noa's parents were angry at me afterword for failing to notify them before the media heard about it, but the truth is that it concerned a small detail, one that was later ruled out," Franco says.

At about the same time, two young women came forward to tell police that a man they had met at a Tel Aviv nightclub mentioned the rape and murder of "Noa." The women made the connection with Noa Eyal, and on the basis of their statements the police created a sketch of a suspect and focused their investigation on nightclubs in the area, but nothing came of it.