Free meal helps Florida police arrest suspect in 1987 killing of 82-year-old woman

A free meal led to the arrest of a Mississippi man in connection to the slaying of an 82-year-old Florida woman that has gone unsolved for nearly 36 years, authorities said.

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Michael Lapniewski Jr., 55, of Waveland, Mississippi, was arrested in Mississippi on Jan. 26 and extradited to Florida, where he was charged on Tuesday with first-degree murder, according to Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office online booking records. According to a news release from the sheriff’s office, Lapniewski was arrested in connection with the Feb. 9, 1987, death of Opal Weil, who was choked and beaten at her home in unincorporated St. Petersburg.

According to the sheriff’s office, a suspect was determined after advancements in DNA testing.

In December 2020, Pinellas County detectives cold case detectives were assigned to the case and requested additional DNA testing of hairs collected at the murder scene to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, WTSP-TV reported. Further genealogical testing was also requested.

“After extensive testing was done by Parabon Nanolabs, family trees were constructed, and familial relatives were identified,” the sheriff’s office said in its news release. “Of the relatives identified, Parabon Nanolabs were able to narrow down the suspects to three possible males.”

After extensive investigation, detectives excluded two of the suspects, WLOX-TV reported.

An undercover Pinellas County deputy followed Lapniewski into a convenience store in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, on July 16, 2022, according to an arrest affidavit. The detective observed Lapniewski using a red straw to stir coffee and then suck the residue of the drink from the straw. After Lapniewski disposed of the straw, the detective retrieved it with a clean napkin in order to conduct DNA testing.

The method of confirming the DNA involved the advertising of a free meal at a restaurant in Bay St. Louis, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The restaurant was owned by a police officer in Bay St. Louis who knew Lapniewski personally, the arrest affidavit stated.

After Lapniewski responded to the deal on July 17, 2022, detectives confiscated the spoon and fork he used at the restaurant in Bay St. Louis and submitted them for DNA testing, according to an arrest affidavit.

The DNA extracted from the utensils and straws matched the DNA found on hairs discovered on Weil’s nightgown, her electric blanket and her bed that was found after her death, the arrest affidavit stated.

At the time of Weil’s death, Lapniewski lived less than a mile from her residence, the sheriff’s office said.

Lapniewski remains in the Pinellas County Jail without bond, online records show.

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