A 1996 murder in the East Bay appears to have finally been solved via a DNA match, and the killer, authorities say, has been serving a 295-year sentence on an unrelated sexual assault conviction from the late 90s.
21-year-old Priscilla Lewis, a waitress at Four Corners Pizza in Crockett — which is still there — disappeared on September 24, 1996 while at work, and a cook at the restaurant became concerned when she didn't return from her break. The cook went to the basement of the building, where restrooms were located that were shared by multiple businesses, and he discovered Lewis's remains. She had been murdered — severely beaten, neck broken, and likely strangled, her face shoved into a toilet bowl. The official cause of death asphyxia due to drowning.
Contra Costa County homicide detectives were unable to solve the case, and it was only recently that they submitted some DNA evidence to a crime lab. Apparently advances in technology led to a DNA match with 51-year-old Danny Lamont Hamilton, who has been serving time in a state penitentiary near San Diego.
The Contra Costa County Office of the Sheriff announced the resolution of the case Thursday, saying that Hamilton, once a resident of Vallejo, has been charged with murder with four enhancements, including lying in wait and murder while committing rape.
Presumably, Hamilton will now be moved to Contra Costa County to stand trial for the murder. He had previously been jailed in Martinez between 1999 and 2002 for the unrelated sexual assault case, and he's been serving out his sentence in Southern California ever since.
"I would like to recognize the many Sheriff’s Office homicide detectives and crime lab staff for their dedication and relentless work in the murder of Priscilla Lewis in 1996,” said Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston in a statement. "We continue to investigate unsolved homicides in an effort to provide families, like that of Priscilla Lewis, with answers and some closure and to hold suspects accountable."
The story of Lewis's assault and murder is especially creepy in light of reports from Lewis's friends that she had expressed fears about using the basement restroom where she was found. As the blog California True Crime explains, the restaurant "was part of an old building, called the Valona Square Mall, that housed several other businesses including a candy shop, a video store, a construction office, and a dance studio. All of the businesses in the building shared bathrooms located in the basement of the building." And, according to friends, "Lewis was known to use the restroom of a bar across the street to avoid the basement area, described as isolated, vacant and dimly lit."
Lewis, who lived across the Carquinez Bridge in Vallejo, was said to be trying to save money to buy a house before she was killed.
Family, friends, and customers at what's now called Four Corners Pizza 'n' Pasta, gathered for a vigil in September 2019, marking 23 years of the murder being unsolved. As Lewis's cousin, Troy Kinslow, told KRON4 at the time that he continued to be haunted by the murder all these years later.
"This community was rocked by it," Kinslow said. "There’s like a black cloud over this town, it was bad."
The investigation continues until Hamilton is brought to trial, and the Sheriff's Office would appreciate anyone with information about the case to call the Investigation Division at (925) 313-2600, or they can email tips to [email protected] or call (866) 846-3592 to leave an anonymous voice message.