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Santa Barbara County Sheriff Announces Arrest in 1988 Montecito Homicide

Cold case investigation leads to arrest of Florida man on suspicion of murder in death of Vernon Hart Kendrick

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown, left, announces the arrest of a suspect in the 1988 murder of Santa Barbara man Vernon Kendrick.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown, left, announces the arrest of a suspect in the 1988 murder of Santa Barbara man Vernon Kendrick. (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photo)

More than 20 years after Vernon Hart Kendrick, 46, was found dead in his apartment on Olive Mill Road, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department has arrested a suspect in connection with the 1988 homicide case.

Larry Lon Lee, 52, an inmate in Sarasota County, Florida, was arrested Thursday on suspicion of murder by Santa Barbara sheriff’s detectives after being linked to the crime by DNA evidence, authorities said. 

Lee has an extensive criminal history of theft and narcotics-related arrests in several states, including California and Florida, Brown said. 

“This was a horrific crime that shocked our community,” Sheriff Bill Brown said. 

According to Brown, investigators learned that the last time Kendrick had been seen alive was on the night of June 28, 1988, leaving The Palace restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara in the company of a man who had ties to Florida.  

After Kendrick failed to show up for work at a furniture sales company, his employer called authorities, which prompted a welfare check at his apartment.

Sheriff’s detectives with the coroner’s office and the criminal investigations division discovered Kendrick died in his home from blunt-force trauma, according to Brown.

“Numerous items appeared to be taken from the residence, indicating robbery and theft was a possible motive,” Brown said. 

The sheriff’s office launched a homicide investigation, but no arrests were made and the case became cold, he said. 

“Detectives developed a person of interest, but despite all investigative leads were unable to positively identify that person at that time,” he said.

Vernon Kendrick Click to view larger
Vernon Kendrick

Investigators periodically reviewed the case and critical DNA evidence was submitted to the California Department of Justice Crime Lab in 2010. 

“Over the years, time and resources allowed cold case investigators to review the case and the evidence,” Brown said.

“The investigation would look at the original information and evidence, not only with a fresh set of eyes but also but with a view of how the advent of new technology can be used to solve this case.”

The database identified two DNA profiles, the victims and an unknown man.

The unknown DNA was entered into the Combined DNA Index System and a match had occurred with Lee, Brown said. 

Larry Lon Lee Click to view larger
Larry Lon Lee

In July, Lee was arrested in Manatee County for an outstanding warrant and was transferred to Florida.

Once Lee’s pending Florida criminal case has been resolved, officers will seek his extradition back to Santa Barbara County to face the murder trial, according to Brown.

Detectives have attempted to notify Kendrick’s family members and spoke with a longtime family friend about the development.

“All efforts made to contact his family have been unsuccessful,” Brown said. “We’ve lost contact with them over the years, however, we will continue to attempt to locate any surviving relatives.”

He did not release specific details regarding the evidence collected linking Lee to the crime, citing the ongoing investigation.

Brown made the announcement alongside Chief Deputy Samuel Gross, Commander Darin Fotheringham and Senior Crime Scene Technician Michael Ullemeyer, who has been working on the case from the beginning.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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