A former Albuquerque Philharmonic conductor and touring music competition judge has been identified as a suspect in the sexual assault of two women in Alabama decades ago and other violent assaults across the country.
The Tuscaloosa Violent Crimes Unit said Thursday DNA and genealogy studies concluded that Elliott L. Higgins of Jemez Springs, New Mexico, was a suspect in the 1991 sexual assault of a University of Alabama student and of the robbery and sexual assault of a Tuscaloosa real estate agent in 2001.
Higgins died in 2014 at the age of 73.
Investigators learned that Higgins was a judge at the annual international horn competition hosted by the University of Alabama in the same year and week as the two Alabama attacks.
In 1991, a then 19-year-old college student returned to her off-campus apartment and exited her car when the man approached her, according to a 2006 article by Stephanie Taylor in The Tuscaloosa News.
The suspect held her by the tip of a knife, forced her back into the car, and forced her to drive to another location before raping her.
He searched her purse, found her ID, and threatened to find her and harm her if she reported the attack.
He told the woman he was a “happily married man” and a former university employee, Taylor said.
Ten years later, a man called a real estate agency from a pay phone and asked to see a house. He attacked the broker with a knife and also stole her jewelry and a watch.
Investigators determined that the 1991 case and a 2004 case in El Paso County, Colorado, were linked through DNA found in both crimes, said Capt. Jack Kennedy of the Tuscaloosa Violent Crimes Unit.
But despite extensive investigations by both departments, they were unable to identify a viable suspect.
In October 2021, in cooperation with the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, samples of the suspect’s DNA from the 1991 case were submitted to Parabon Labs for possible genetic genealogy research.
Parabon Labs was able to provide a possible suspect, Kennedy said, and subsequent investigation confirmed Higgins was the perpetrator of the crimes.
Kennedy said Higgins was a college music teacher and his family also ran a youth music camp in Jimenez Springs, Hummingbird Music Camp.
Higgins specialized in French horn and was once the conductor of the Albuquerque Philharmonic.
He was also manager of the Santa Barbara Symphony in California and the Fort Wayne Indiana Philharmonic in Indiana.
During the investigation, a criminal record was found for sexual assaults committed by Higgins in the 1970s, Kennedy said.
In 1976, Higgins helped found and then served as a judge on the International Horn Competition, also known at various times as the American Horn Competition.
The contest was held at various universities across the United States and was found to have been hosted by the University of Alabama in the same year and week as the two Tuscaloosa County sexual assaults in 1991 and 2001.
Kennedy said it was also confirmed by competition records that Higgins attended and judged both competitions in Tuscaloosa during the years of the sexual assault in question.
“Other than being 10 years apart for the few days of horn competitions in Tuscaloosa, Higgins had no connection to the Tuscaloosa area,” Kennedy said.
Composite drawings, procedures, victim identification and other evidence showed that Higgins was the perpetrator of the three sexual assaults.
“Additionally, subsequent DNA testing of Higgins’ biological relatives has now confirmed that Higgins is the suspect with a greater than 99.999 percent probability,” Kennedy said.
Higgins is believed to have committed similar violent assaults throughout his life and across the country.
Higgins – unidentified at this time – appeared in a 2006 episode of America’s Most Wanted.
According to Tuscaloosa News, producers have been nicknamed “The Wedding Dress Attacker” because he appears to be targeting women selling wedding dresses through classified ads.
All investigative information was shared with all law enforcement agencies where the horn contests took place, as well as forwarded to the FBI, Kennedy said.
“Numerous investigators in various departments have worked diligently on this case for over 20 years,” Kennedy said.
“Because of their hard work, the professional standards of the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, and the use of new technology, this suspect has finally been identified.”
“Although this subject is now deceased, by identifying him, we hope to bring his known victims to a conclusion,” Kennedy said, “and to encourage anyone else who may have been a victim of Higgins to contact the appropriate law enforcement agency.” .”