A manager at the Patterson Save Mart just wanted the teen, who was asking his customers for money, to leave the store. He had no idea his call to police would set in motion a crucial link that police say helped solve a 2017 rape and murder in Modesto.
Modesto Police on Thursday arrested 18-year-old Seth Becknel on suspicion of killing and sexually assaulting 41-year-old Jenny Wu, who was the resident of a mental health center off of Carver Road.
Wu was found without clothing on the morning of April 21, 2017, positioned between a utility box and a fence in an alley on Evergreen Avenue. She’d been asphyxiated.
Detectives collected evidence including DNA that was sent to the Department of Justice Crime Lab.
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Becknel was 17 and lived near the mental health center at the time of the attack.
He had since moved to Patterson and on Dec. 5 was at the Save Mart on Sperry Avenue asking customers for money, authorities said.
Becknel had asked for money at the store before, the manager told a deputy. But this time Becknel was following a woman around the store, so the manager called police, said Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Lt. Brandon Kiely.
Deputy Jacob Callahan responded to the store and spotted Becknel as he was leaving. Callahan asked Becknel if he had any weapons and Becknel told him he had a knife, Kiely said.
Callahan patted him down, found the fixed blade knife and arrested him on suspicion of felony carrying a concealed dirk or dagger.
Adults arrested for any felony offense are subject to DNA collection, according to the California Department of Justice.
Becknel’s DNA was collected two days after his arrest in Patterson and on Jan. 29 the Department of Justice Crime Lab notified Modesto Police homicide Sgt. Steve Hinkley that it matched DNA collected in Wu’s murder.
“The DNA match allowed us to do additional focused follow-up to confirm Seth Becknel’s involvement,” Hinkley said in an email Friday.
Becknel was detained by Stanislaus County Probation officers on Thursday and brought to the Modesto Police Department, where he was arrested.
He is being held in the Stanislaus County Jail without bail on charges of murder and rape.
Wu lived in the Bay Area before before becoming a resident at the Modesto Residential Living Center. Investigators believe she was out for a walk when she was attacked. Her body was found the day after she was reported missing from the center.
Because Becknel was a juvenile at the time of the rape and murder, a juvenile court judge will decide if he should be prosecuted as an adult.
Anyone with information regarding this case is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 209-521-4636. Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward. Tipsters may also visit the crime Stopper’s website at www.stancrimetips.org or download the P3 app to provide tips.