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Saint Leo University Criminal Justice Faculty Member Weighs In On Cold Case Arrest, Possible Serial Killings

New technology aided an arrest in a 1987 slaying, and now detectives think other killings could be related. Saint Leo’s Dr. Joseph Cillo offered his insight into the cases.

Tags: Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice College of Education and Social Services Criminal Justice Forensics Innovation Public Safety Administration Serial Killers
13 February 2023 - By University Communications

Saint Leo University is known for providing its criminal justice and public safety administration students an in-depth, experiential learning education. And often, the university’s faculty members are called on to provide their expertise and insight for stories being produced by news reporters.

Recently, WFLA-TV, News Channel 8, turned to Dr. Joseph Cillo, assistant professor of criminal justice, to ask if detectives in a recent arrest in a Pinellas County (FL) cold case should consider whether the man arrested could have committed additional killings — not just in Florida. 


Cillo teaches a student-favorite course on serial killers. The popular course has a waiting list with students who didn’t get in the class signing up on a sheet of paper outside of his office. That list is almost full, too. 

News Channel 8 reporter Jeff Patterson explained that detectives made an arrest in a 1987 cold case killing of Opal Weil, 82, by using cutting-edge DNA technology. They arrested Michael Lapniewski in Mississippi after collecting a DNA sample from him and linking it to a hair sample found at the crime scene in 1987.

Weil was not the only elderly female victim in the area at the time, as Eleanor Swift was killed four days later, and Maria Elz, 86, was attacked, but survived.

Cillo confirmed detectives’ thoughts that these cases could all have been committed by Lapniewski. Patterson said that the list of residences for the accused man is lengthy.

“They have cooling off periods, so that’s what throws investigators off because the cooling off period and they move local, geographically across the country, that’s why sequential killers and serial killers stay uncaught for 20, 30, 40 years,” Cillo said. 


Read more and view the interview here: