NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Police investigating the slaying of a Yale graduate student zeroed in on a "person of interest" Tuesday after keeping tabs on an ever-tightening circle of people connected to the medical lab where her body was found stuffed behind a wall.
Authorities on the case have been tight-lipped almost since the minute 24-year-old Annie Le was reported missing Sept. 8, just a few days before her wedding day. Police say they have ruled out her fiancee, a Columbia University graduate student, but they have provided little additional information — other than to deny reports that a suspect was in custody.
On Tuesday, investigators descended in large numbers on the home of a Yale animal research technician who lives in an apartment in Middletown, about 20 miles from the New Haven campus. Le worked for a Yale laboratory that conducted experiments on mice, and investigators found her body stuffed in the basement wall of a facility that housed research animals.
It was unclear whether the technician was the "person of interest," and whether police were giving the same attention to any others who had access to the lab where Le worked. Detectives have questioned more than 150 people, many of them believed to be connected to the busy medical research building where Le was a rising star.
Officials had promised Tuesday to release an autopsy report that would shed light on exactly how Annie died. But then prosecutors blocked release of the results out of concern that it could hinder the investigation.
Investigators usually have reasons for keeping information secret during a criminal probe, said David Zlotnick, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches law at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I.
Secrecy helps police confront possible suspects with little-known evidence about a crime and makes it harder them to fabricate a cover story.
"Having that information secret or private helps the investigators know, first of all, what buttons to push on the person, and it makes sure they haven't tainted the investigation," Zlotnick said.
Le's body was found Sunday, the day she would have been married on New York's Long Island. Her remains had been crammed into a wall recess where utilities and cables run between floors.
Police now have a "person of interest," according to a state official with firsthand knowledge of the investigation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Authorities do not believe Le was killed by a fellow student, and they have sought to assure frightened students that Le was targeted by her killer — meaning that others were not in danger.
Even as investigators and reporters swarmed outside the Middletown apartment complex, police denied they were doing so. A man answering the door Tuesday said the technician was not at home and closed the door.
The secrecy surrounding the case has bred confusion in some quarters, and officials have repeatedly denied media reports.
"You guys made up the fact that we had somebody in custody, the media in general," New Haven police spokesman Joe Avery told reporters outside the police department Tuesday.
The lack of information has also led to some measure of fear at Yale, which last dealt with a homicide in 1998 — the sensational and still-unsolved stabbing death of 21-year-old Suzanne Jovin about 2 miles from campus.
Yale President Richard Levin was more forthcoming to Yale medical students, telling them Monday that police have narrowed the number of potential suspects to a small pool because building security systems recorded who entered the building and what times they entered.
Several news organizations have reported that police were interviewing a possible suspect who failed a polygraph test and had defensive wounds on his body. At least one reported Tuesday that it was the lab technician in Middletown.
Along the way, various media have reported that Le was stabbed, that police found her bloody clothes and that a professor was a prime suspect — virtually all claims unconfirmed by police or met by flat denials.
New Haven police said they would restrict information even more in coming days after an NBC producer was injured Tuesday as reporters outside the police department pushed to surround a spokesman during a briefing.
The building where Le's body is accessible to Yale personnel with identification cards. Some 75 video surveillance cameras monitor all doorways.
Her body was found in the basement, which houses rodents, mostly mice, used for scientific testing by multiple Yale researchers, Alpern said.
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"That this horrible tragedy happened at all is incomprehensible," said Le's roommate, Natalie Powers. "That it happened to her, I think is infinitely more so. It seems completely senseless."