Suspect admits to killing Fort Myers woman in 1984, dies days later

Writer: Melissa Montoya
James Drinnon (CREDIT: Fort Myers Police Department)

Police have solved the 1984 shooting death of a woman in Fort Myers.

Fort Myers police said an Okeechobee man, James Drinnon, is responsible for the death of 31-year-old Claretha Gibbs.

Gibbs was shot in the abdomen in the area of Palm Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard on June 26, 1984. She was taken to a hospital where she later died.

Witnesses told police at the time that she was seen entering a two-tone vehicle, possibly a pickup, just before hearing a gunshot. Police initially responded to a report of shots fired when they found Gibbs.

During the investigation, police found a rag with the suspect’s DNA on it. DNA testing was not common in 1984.

Investigators sent the rag to a DNA lab in 2017. A full DNA profile of the suspect was obtained and entered into CODIS, the FBI’s national DNA database.

No suspect was found at the time, but in July of 2020, DNA was provided to Parabon Snapshot for the development of a profile using genealogy research.

That’s when the genealogy database identified Drinnon, 65, as the suspect. Drinnon lived in Lee County at the time of the death, police found.

Drinnon admitted to shooting Gibbs during a Jan. 13 visit by officers in his Okeechobee home. Drinnon claims Gibbs was a sex worker he picked up to engage in sex. He said Gibbs pulled a gun on Drinnon to rob him. They fought over the gun and Gibbs was shot, he told police.

He fled the scene and discarded the gun out of the window of his vehicle as he fled.

Drinnon died five days after his confession, police said.

“This case is an excellent example of good old-fashioned police work combined with the advancements that technology can provide law enforcement,” Fort Myers police said. “The Fort Myers Police Department and Chief Derrick Diggs are committed to using any resource or technology available to solve our unsolved murder cases and bring justice for their families.”

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