Detectives from the Montgomery County Department of Police – Cold Case Unit have identified 51-year-old Hans Huitz of the 800 block of Maitland Drive in Virginia Beach, Virginia, as the person wanted for the homicide of James Essel that occurred on March 22, 1992.
On March 22, 1992, at approximately 6:00 p.m., a customer found James Essel, age 57, deceased inside the Sugarloaf Mountain Market located at 23800 Old Hundred Road in Comus. The customer located Essel on the floor behind the checkout counter with a large amount of blood on and around him. The customer immediately ran out of the store and called 911. Investigation revealed that Essel owned and operated the store and was the only one working at the time of the homicide.
On March 23, 1992, an autopsy was performed on Essel. The autopsy revealed that Essel sustained 29 stab wounds and his death was ruled a homicide by the Medical Examiner.
Since that time, detectives have been following various leads and information obtained during this homicide investigation. In 2017, detectives were able to gather additional information regarding the suspect using the latest in DNA analysis and investigative techniques. A press conference was held and a press release was issued at that time detailing the additional information.
At the end of January 2020, Huitz was identified as a possible suspect. On February 10, 2020, with the assistance of the Virginia Beach Police Department, Cold Case detectives obtained a search and seizure warrant to obtain a buccal swab from Hans Huitz for comparison to the DNA evidence (blood) left by the suspect at the scene.
On February 11, 2020, Cold Case detectives, with the assistance of the Virginia Beach Police Department, served the search and seizure warrant on Hans Huitz and obtained a DNA sample from him. The sample Huitz provided was analyzed and positively identified Huitz as the suspect who had committed the murder of James Essel in 1992.
On Wednesday, February 12, 2020, Repeat Offender Section detectives attached to a U.S. Marshals Task Force attempted to arrest Huitz in Virginia on the strength of an arrest warrant charging him with first-degree murder, felony murder, and robbery with a dangerous weapon. While attempting to make the arrest, a confrontation between detectives and Huitz resulted in detectives using deadly force and Huitz succumbing to his injuries at the scene. The facts and circumstances regarding the incident are currently being investigated by the Virginia Beach Police Department in cooperation with the Virginia Commonwealth Attorney’s Office.
Previous press releases:
Investigation Continues into 1992 Unsolved Homicide of James Essel; Detectives Ask For Public’s Assistance (March 22, 2016)
Media Advisory: Detectives Release Suspect Composite in 1992 Unsolved Homicide of James Essel; DNA Evidence Used to Create Composite (June 9, 2017)
DNA Evidence Left at Scene Used to Create Suspect Composite in 1992 Unsolved Homicide of James Essel (June 12, 2017)