Episode 111: Olga Ooro

April 8, 2024

When a young boy is found wandering alone, searching for his mother, investigators race to find answers. What happened to Olga Ooro?

Episode Media
Olga Akinyi Ooro (Metropolitan Police Department)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you a case that has some satisfying answers but even more frustrating questions. This episode discusses sensitive topics, so listener discretion is advised.

On the evening of July 18, 2020, Blake Lanning left his Washington, D.C. apartment to take out the trash. On his way back up to the second floor, he was approached by a young boy in a blue t-shirt and swim shorts. Blake could tell that the boy had been crying – tears streaked his face and he was breathing heavily. The boy looked at Blake and asked, “Do you know where my mommy is?”

Blake didn’t recognize the boy – not surprising in a large apartment building – but the child was visibly distressed, and Blake couldn’t leave him wandering the hallways. He asked the boy to come downstairs to the lobby so the front desk staff could help, but the boy said he would rather go back to his apartment. Blake watched the child go inside, then immediately went down to the lobby and spoke with the concierge, who followed him back up to the second floor. When they spoke with the boy, he told them he hadn’t seen his mother since Thursday night, two days earlier. He had been alone that whole time, just waiting for her to come home.

They learned that his mother’s name was Olga Ooro. They had only lived in the Massachusetts Court Apartments for a few months, and the boy hadn’t known what to do when he woke up Friday morning and found the apartment empty. Thankfully, the concierge was able to get in touch with Olga’s parents, who rushed over to the apartment to take charge of their grandson. Timanah Ooro later recalled feeling so upset at the thought of her daughter being missing that she had to sit down to catch her breath. Olga would never leave her son alone like this; something was very wrong.

The concierge had also contacted the Metropolitan Police Department and let them know about the unattended child and potentially missing mother. Officers from the Youth and Family Services Division arrived at the apartment and immediately opened an investigation. How had this child ended up alone? Where was his mother?

Investigators learned that 34-year-old Olga Ooro had grown up in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C. Her parents, Timanah and Otieno, had emigrated from Kenya in the 1980s. As an adult, Olga had moved into the city for work, and in her late twenties, she had given birth to her son. Everyone who knew Olga knew how much she adored her little boy. Everything she did was for him.

Now, Olga’s 7-year-old son sat with police officers and told them about the last time he had seen his mother. According to the boy, he and his mom had gone out to dinner with Olga’s boyfriend on Thursday night. They had gone to their favorite Mexican restaurant, Agua 301 in the Navy Yard neighborhood of D.C. After dinner, they had returned home, where Olga gave her son a bath and put him to bed. The boy told police that Olga had changed into her “fancy clothes” which made him think she was going back out after he fell asleep. But he didn’t know anything else about it – all he remembered was that he woke up the next morning and his mother was gone.

Investigators now had a new person to talk to: Olga’s boyfriend, 55-year-old Darnell Sterling.

Olga and Darnell had started dating in 2019, and from the beginning, their relationship was turbulent. According to court documents, neighbors had called the police multiple times on the couple. The first time was in July of 2019, during which a neighbor heard Olga yelling for help. When the police arrived, they found Olga with a busted lip. Darnell was arrested and charged with domestic assault several times over the next year.

When detectives brought Darnell in for questioning, he was very cooperative. He told them that yes, they had gone out to dinner on Thursday night and had returned to Olga’s apartment shortly after midnight. Darnell told Olga that he wanted to go out gambling, and Olga had said she would go with him, she just needed to put her son to bed first. This seemed to align with her son’s story about Olga putting on her fancy clothes after coming home.

Darnell told detectives that while Olga was getting ready, he had stepped out into the hallway to take a phone call. When Olga came outside, she demanded to know who he was talking to on the phone and accused him of cheating. They argued back and forth, and Olga said she wasn’t going gambling with him after all. Darnell said he left the apartment around 1:30am and went back to his own apartment building in Navy Yard. He packed a bag and drove two and a half hours to Ocean City, Maryland, where he parked his car and walked to the beach to sit by the water. He fell asleep on the sand, and when he awoke the next morning, both his cell phones were missing. He assumed someone had stolen them while he slept.

After that, Darnell told detectives that he stayed in Ocean City until Saturday before heading back to the city. On the way home, he stopped in the town of Edgewater to buy a new cell phone, but when the store asked to see his ID, he changed his mind. Instead, he drove back to D.C. and went to a store closer to home. Once he had a new phone, he tried calling and texting Olga, wanting to make up after their fight, but she didn’t answer.

Unsurprisingly, detectives found Darnell’s story to be slightly suspicious. And it became even more so once they saw the surveillance footage.

Video from the apartment building’s security cameras shows Darnell, Olga, and her son returning from dinner, entering the apartment lobby at 12:18am on Friday, July 17th. Olga and her son step into the elevator and Darnell follows behind. Two and a half hours later, at 3:53am, Darnell exits the elevator alone and walks down the hallway and out the side door. When Darnell was first seen on camera, he was wearing a blue and white striped polo shirt and a white ball cap. The second time, he was wearing a black long-sleeved shirt and a cowboy hat, and he was carrying a black trash bag in his right hand. The bag appeared to be nearly full and somewhat heavy based on the way Darnell was holding it. Eighteen minutes later, at 4:11am, Darnell’s car leaves Olga’s apartment building. It is next seen at his own building in Navy Yard, but oddly, Darnell doesn’t use the main entrance. Instead, he walks down the parking ramp and enters through a side door.

Then, at 1:39am on Saturday, July 18th, a man is seen entering Olga’s building. He is dressed in a white polo shirt, white track pants, and a black ball cap. He is pulling a folding utility cart behind him with what appears to be a blue striped Mexican-style blanket on top. He enters the elevator and exits again ten minutes later. This time, he is struggling to pull the cart, which is now carrying a large, oddly-shaped bundle, something wrapped up and laying flat on the cart. The blue striped blanket is on top, and the man grips it tightly as he pulls the heavy cart down the hallway and out the door.

When confronted with the video footage, Darnell admitted that he was the one carrying the black trash bag out of the building, but he denied being the man with the cart. He said he was in Ocean City at the time – it couldn’t be him.

But the holes in Darnell’s story were too big for him to fill. License plate readers showed Darnell’s car in D.C. when he claimed he had already left town. Footage from a supermarket ATM showed Darnell withdrawing $500 from his account at 9:35am on the 18th – eight hours after the man with the cart left Olga’s building, again placing him in D.C. His car was then spotted heading east towards Ocean City, a full day after he said he had left the city. According to court documents, the person behind the wheel of Darnell’s car was wearing a white polo shirt very similar to the one worn by the man with the cart. Then, detectives played their ace: the man with the cart had used Olga’s key fob to enter and exit her building. Who else would have had access to that except Darnell Sterling?

Investigators obtained search warrants for Olga’s apartment building and for Darnell’s vehicle, a 2007 Volkswagen Passat. A cadaver dog was brought in to assist with the search, and court documents show that the dog alerted to the presence of human remains inside Darnell’s car. It also alerted in Olga’s bedroom, outside her apartment door, and in the hallway.

On July 23, 2020, Darnell Sterling was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in the death of Olga Ooro.

In an emotional statement to the press, Olga’s father pleaded for answers. “This is an appeal on behalf of my grandson and family for any information that can provide clues to the case and location of the remains of my dear daughter to allow some closure and to give a decent burial.”

Two years later, Darnell Sterling finally went to trial. During opening statements, the prosecution encouraged the jury to look at the totality of the evidence, which they believed pointed to the fact that Darnell Sterling had murdered Olga Ooro and disposed of her body. They emphasized Darnell’s history of violence against Olga, a pattern that had led up to her death. They also informed the jury that less than a week before Olga went missing, Darnell had been arrested and charged with domestic assault yet again. This time, a judge had ordered Darnell to stay away from Olga until his next hearing, scheduled for just two days after Olga disappeared. According to the prosecution, this wasn’t a coincidence.

But the defense argued that there was no murder, Olga was simply a missing person. There was no evidence of a crime, no body found. They couldn’t even prove that it was Darnell in the surveillance footage. His attorney told the jury, “The government has charged this missing person’s case as a homicide. But there is no evidence that an actual homicide occurred. They have no body. No crime scene. Not even a sign there was an altercation.”

Over the next two weeks, multiple witnesses testified. Olga’s family and friends spoke of how much she loved her son, how she never would have left him on his own. Even her son’s father spoke about how Olga was a good mother even if her life wasn’t always the most stable.

The prosecution also brought forth witnesses to speak about Olga and Darnell’s relationship. A concierge from Darnell’s apartment building testified about an altercation in which he observed Olga’s bleeding wounds firsthand. Olga had been treated by EMTs and Darnell had gone to jail for the night. Police body-cam footage from several incidents was shared with the jury, and the officers testified to what they had witnessed. They painted a picture of anger and abuse, both verbal and physical.

When Olga’s mother took the stand, she recounted the day she learned of her daughter’s disappearance. When she had rushed to Olga’s apartment, she had been so overcome with emotion that she had sat on Olga’s bed to catch her breath. When she did, she noticed that the sheets were missing. “I didn’t put so much thought into it, I just thought she had done laundry, but there were no bedsheets on the mattress. Just a comforter and pillows, that’s it.” But when she looked at the washer and dryer later that day, both were empty. Crime scene photos from July 18th confirm that there were no sheets on Olga’s bed that day.

Expert witnesses were called to testify about the forensic evidence in the case. A DNA technician testified that a small patch of Olga’s blood was found in the hallway outside her apartment, six feet up on the wall. The jury was also told about the cadaver dog alerting on various spots of the apartment building as well as the front passenger seat of Darnell’s car.

In closing arguments, the defense argued that one drop of blood didn’t prove that a murder had taken place, and the crime scene photographs didn’t show any signs of a struggle inside the apartment. Besides, Olga’s son had been asleep just feet away. How could their client allegedly commit a murder, hide a body for nearly 24 hours, then come back and drag it away without the boy hearing a thing? Darnell’s attorney told the jury that the prosecution’s case was “convoluted theories without evidence.” He also pointed out that there were other suspects that police had ignored – Olga’s ex-boyfriend had much more motive to harm her than Darnell did. They were always arguing about their custody arrangements, maybe he had gotten rid of Olga so he could get full custody of their son.

But the prosecution stood firm in their belief that the evidence pointed to only one person. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Liebman told the jury, “No one has seen or heard from Olga Ooro. And that’s because she’s dead. She’s dead because of Darnell Sterling.”

On October 3, 2022, the jury found Darnell Sterling guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Olga Ooro. He was sentenced to 27 years in prison.

During the sentencing hearing, Olga’s father spoke to the court, saying, “He has not only killed Olga. He has killed us. He has killed our whole family.” He then looked at Darnell Sterling and said, “You killed me.”

Olga Ooro’s body has yet to be found, but her family still hopes that she will come home one day. If you have any information about the case, please contact the Metropolitan Police Department at 202-727-9099. And if you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or text START to 88788 for free and confidential help.