A murder charge was filed Friday in 3rd District Court in connection with a nearly 21-year-old homicide. It's the third time in less than a week that Salt Lake City police believe they have solved one of their "cold cases."

Dan L. Petersen, 44, was charged with criminal homicide in the March 31, 1986, death of 14-year-old Tiffany Hambleton.

Petersen was seen with Hambleton on the morning of Feb. 18, 1986, and told police he was driving her home to her mother's house, according to court documents. He told police he ran out of gas, however, and last saw Hambleton walking away.

Her body was discovered concealed in a ditch near 1100 South and 3400 West. The Utah State Medical Examiner determined the cause of death to be multiple stab wounds to the chest and neck.

The break in the case came thanks to Sorensen Forensics experts, who re-examined Hambleton's fingernail clippings and stains on her shirt, according to court documents. Both pieces of evidence had been preserved since the murder. Sorensen was able to match DNA found on the evidence with Petersen and determined there was a "1 in 18.2-quadrillion" chance of it belonging to someone else, according to court documents.

Friday morning, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank sent two detectives to Glendale, Ariz., where Petersen now lives, to arrest him. He was in custody Friday night and awaiting the extradition proceedings to bring him back to Utah, Burbank said.

"It's so important," he said of the big break in the case. "The impact on her family, friends and relatives ... this is why we should be doing police work, to be able to bring some closure to her family."

Petersen had been on the police department's radar ever since Hambleton's body was found, Burbank said.

"Technology finally rose to the level that we were able to come up with some good concrete evidence," he said. "A lot of people have spent a lot of time and energy on this case. It never went away. It's very satisfying."

Hambleton was one of four your women all slain in the mid-1980s whose cases went unsolved for some time.

• Lisa Strong, 25, was shot and killed in May 1986 near Kensington Avenue and 800 East. Forrest Whittle was convicted of her murder in 1995.

• Christine Gallegos, 18, was shot and stabbed in May 1985. The West Valley resident's body was found near the old Derks Field. Her case remains usolved.

• Carla Maxwell was shot and killed while working as a clerk at a Layton 7-Eleven in April 1986. Her case remains unsolved.

Those cases have been of particular interest to Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson. When still a practicing attorney, Anderson represented the families in a 1994 action asking that the cases be opened for a new review by the courts. Anderson spearheaded the effort that led to a grand jury filing charges against Whittle.

In 2003, Anderson formed a five-member commission to look into how those cases were initially handled by police.

Friday, he said he was pleased with the latest developments.

"Tiffany's family has been through the worst imaginable tragedy. First with the vicious murder of Tiffany and then with all the years of delay in bringing the perpetrator to justice," he said. "I'm just very very pleased with the work now being done by the Salt Lake City Police Department in solving such an old and difficult case."

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com