BROOKLYN (PIX11) — Pearl Snell-Holder used a walker to navigate in the rain to visit the Cold Case Squad on Gold Street on Monday.
She came to say goodbye to the retiring detective who solved her teen daughter’s murder and arrested the alleged killer after 40 years.
“That’s my son,” Snell-Holder, who’s now nearly 84 years old, told PIX11 News about Detective William Simon. “I consider him my son.”
More than seven years ago, Detective Simon took over the cold case file concerning the strangulation of Lorraine Snell, 19, on Sept. 25, 1980. The young legal secretary had left home the night of Sept. 24 to make arrangements for an engagement party at Midwood Terrace in Flatbush.
Her cousin’s husband, James Burrus, later acknowledged he saw Snell in Midwood Terrace that night and walked her part of the way home. The teen’s body wasn’t found until the afternoon of Sept. 25, 1980 in the back seat of a station wagon, behind a supermarket where Burrus used to work. Burrus was always a person of interest in her murder, partly because of his behavior in the early hours when Lorraine Snell was missing.
“I told myself from day one, he was the killer,” Pearl Snell-Holder said.
Burrus always denied the allegation.
When PIX11 News first went looking for him in 2014, Burrus was a storefront bishop holding services in a garage behind a Staten Island laundry. When we asked him about Lorraine Snell, he initially acted like he didn’t know her name. Then we mentioned his wife’s cousin, and Burrus started talking.
“Those cops checked me head to toe,” Burrus recalled of his police interrogation in 1980. “They went under my fingernails.”
There was no such thing as DNA technology in 1980, so Snell’s evidence kit was filed away and Burrus ended up going to prison for a robbery committed the night Snell disappeared.
Burrus told us he found religion in prison–and he later worked as a gospel singer, radio show host, and pastor.
Yet nearly four decades after Snell was killed, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s forensic science unit started testing the evidence kit again, thanks to enhanced DNA technology. Burrus’ DNA was tied to DNA found under Lorraine Snell’s fingernails.
Detective Simon and his team arrested Burrus at his storefront church on Delafield Avenue in Staten Island the morning of March 12, 2020. It was several days before New York City went into lockdown as the first wave of COVID-19 decimated the lives of thousands.
“It meant everything,” Simon told PIX11 News about his ability to make the arrest. “That’s what this job is all about. Bringing closure to the family.”
Pearl Snell-Holder recalled “I screamed, I screamed,” when Detective Simon notified her that Burrus was in handcuffs.
Regarding the timely arrest just before the state’s court system shut down, the mother said, “That’s God’s work! That’s God’s work!”
Snell-Holder’s son, Wayne, joined his mother at the Cold Case Squad to say thank you for Detective Simon’s work.
“He’s a big brother,” Wayne Snell said. “He’s God sent. He made my mother so comfortable and helped my family.”
Burrus is currently on Rikers Island in one of the jail’s hospital wards. His trial has been delayed two and a half years by the ongoing pandemic.
Detective Simon said he solved 16 murders during his seven-and-a-half years at Cold Case. There are more he wishes he could have closed.
But Simon will have a new chapter in his life, post-NYPD. He plans to investigate thousands of cases relating to missing and murdered indigenous people.
He said he will maintain his close ties to Pearl Snell-Holder.
“If I don’t call her, she’s like my mom: If I don’t call her once a week, she gets very upset,” Detective Simon said.