Fingerprints left at a Florida convenience store 43 years ago helped connect detectives in a Florida homicide cold case unit with their suspect, New Orleans resident Johnie Miller, authorities said. Miller, 60, is also known as one of the French Quarter’s most recognizable street performers, “Uncle Louie.”
New Orleans police arrested Miller May 16 on an out of state warrant for second-degree murder and attempted armed robbery out of Jacksonville, Fla., court records show. Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams on Wednesday (May 24) announced Miller’s arrest in connection with the decades-old shooting death of store operator Freddie Farah.
Farah, a father of four, was 34 when he was killed during an attempted robbery on May 22, 1974, according to Project: Cold Case, an organization that recently highlighted Farah’s case as part of its partnership with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
Miller’s act involves him wearing an Uncle Sam suit and freezing mid-stride while appearing to walk a toy dog, often accommodating tourists who stop to pose for photos with him.
Farah’s son Bobby Farah, 56, appeared at a news conference with the Jacksonville sheriff Wednesday and told reporters he “always had this feeling” the person responsible for his father’s death was “out there.”
“We’re relieved,” Bobby Farah said into the microphone, his sisters and mother standing beside him. “Some of us never thought we would see this day.”
Williams on Wednesday attributed the arrest to the tenacity of cold case detectives, advances in fingerprint forensic technology and help from a New Orleans police officer who worked in the French Quarter. He said fingerprint technology did not match any suspects when it was initially tested in the 1970s. The technology was in its infancy stages then, the sheriff said.
Detectives again tested the prints in 1998, Williams said, to no avail. But in December 2016, the Automated Fingerprint Identification System delivered a hit on Miller.
The Orleans Public Defender’s Office was appointed to defend Miller. The Public Defender’s office has a policy of not commenting on open cases.
Miller told the Times-Picayune in 2014 that he had been performing in the Quarter for more than 20 years. Williams on Wednesday said Miller moved to New Orleans in the early 1990s.
Miller has been housed for the last week at the Orleans Justice Center jail without bond. He refused to sign papers to be voluntarily extradited to Florida, court records show. An extradition hearing had been set for June 26, but in the meantime, records show, NOPD officer Michael Hamilton has requested an extradition order from Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Sheriff Williams said detectives also made contact with a witness to the 1974 store shooting. That witness was 14 at the time and is now 57 and living outside of Florida. He said she was able to “provide valuable information” about the case, which guided their investigation.
The lead detective and her partner on Freddie Farah case traveled to New Orleans to track down Miller, Williams said. When they arrived at his known address, they learned Miller had recently been evicted. The landlord told detectives his former tenant “was potentially a street performer in town,” which led detectives to an NOPD detective in the French Quarter, the sheriff said.
“This (NOPD) officer immediately recognized him,” Williams said. He said Miller was placed under arrest the same day.
Asked about Miller’s criminal record since the murder, Williams said Miller had been arrested since 1974, but he did not know what the charges were and if they resulted in any convictions. Orleans Parish Criminal District Court online records, which date back at least to the 1990s, do not show any charges for Miller.
Ryan Backman, the founder and director of Project: Cold Case said he started the organization after his father was murdered in 2009 to publicize cold cases in hopes of leading to tips that help solve them. Sheriff Williams thanked Project: Cold Case during Wednesday’s press conference. Backman said the website featured Farah’s case in April at the request of the sheriff’s office.
Backman said the unsolved case of this father’s murder is eight years old, “so cases like this that are 40-plus years old… gives hope to everybody else out there that’s still waiting.”
Watch how the popular Uncle Louie made his living: