20 years later, murder of Renee Sweeney remains unsolved

Greater Sudbury police are still investigating the 1998 murder of Renee Sweeney. Two decades after her stabbing, police still have not identified a suspect.

The Laurentian University student was working at a store when she was stabbed 30 times

Renee Sweeney was killed twenty years ago while working in a Sudbury shop. (Supplied)

Today marks the 20th anniversary of a brutal murder case that shook the community of Sudbury, Ont. 

Det.-Sgt. Robert Weston, of the Greater Sudbury Police Service, says the cold case has remained a puzzle. He has been the lead investigator on the case for the last six years.

"The fact that this has gone unsolved for 20 years is mind-blowing and frustrating at the same time," he says.

On Jan. 23, 1998, Renee Sweeney, 23, was working at an adult video store in Sudbury's south end, when a man entered the store shortly after 11 a.m., according to police.

The man approached the counter and stabbed Sweeney 30 times, stealing $200 from the cash register before he fled.

DNA sample collected from scene

Police were able to collect large amounts of evidence from the scene, including the windbreaker that the killer was wearing at the time of the murder.

Officers also collected a DNA sample of the man, but a match has never been identified through the national DNA database. Greater Sudbury police say officers continue to check every 30 days.

Sweeney was a student at Laurentian University, working at the video store to help pay for school.

Weston says that it's difficult to investigate a murder that happened so many years ago, but he's determined to push the case forward and ultimately find the man responsible. 
Police have used a new software to create an updated image of the suspect. (left.) The original artist's sketch after her 1998 murder (right.) (Greater Sudbury Police Service)

"The more you get involved in a case like this, you almost build a relationship, somewhat, with the victim. At the end of the day, the focus is on Renee," says Weston.

"I still remain confident that the suspect will be identified."

2 decades have given police new tools

Technology that has developed over the last 20 years have given police new tools that could help solve the case.

Last year, the police announced they had began using a new technology called Snapshot to update the sketch of the suspect.

The program was developed by Parabon, a Virginia-based technology company that specializes in what is called DNA phenotyping. The term refers to a process that can predict the appearance of a suspect based on DNA evidence. 
This crime scene photo shows Renee Sweeney's car parked in front of the Sudbury store where she was stabbed to death in January 1998. (Greater Sudbury Police Service)

According to Weston, the company has been very successful in identifying homicide suspects in the U.S.

The Snapshot program can help investigators identify possible suspects based on appearance or ancestry. 

Const. Meghan O'Malley, also of the Greater Sudbury police, says the composite has provided police with more accurate information about the suspect's physical traits.

"We do know that he is of European descent, that he has light skin, he has either blue or green eyes, brown or blond hair, and might have freckles."

Weston is confident that the composite drawing produced by Snapshot resembles what the suspect would have looked like at the time of the murder.

Cold case still welcomes public tips

The announcement of the new image last year sparked new public interest in the case.

Weston says public response to the case in the last 12 months has been overwhelming.

Since the release of the new composite in January 2017, Sudbury police have received 360 tips from the public. Of those tips, about 200 possible suspects have been eliminated through DNA testing or other means.

Officers are still investigating about 150 other tips from that time period.

Weston wants to encourage members of the public to continue providing any information they might have.

Tips can be called in anonymously, but for police to be able to investigate them properly, the tips should have as much information as possible, he said.

The stabbing happened at this plaza on Paris Street in Sudbury on Jan. 23, 1998. (CBC)

Any member of the public with information about the case can call: Greater Sudbury Police Service at 705-675-9171, ext. 2320; or Sudbury Rainbow Crime Stoppers at 705-222-TIPS (8477).

With files from Kari Vierimaa, Perry Newsome