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When Paul Alan Hachey stood in a North Bay, Ont., courtroom yesterday and pleaded guilty to murder and sexual assault, he closed the door on an unsolved Toronto homicide and a series of sexual assaults in Edmonton dating back to 1988.

In return for his guilty plea, Mr. Hachey was handed a life sentence with no chance of parole for 15 years.

Using DNA from a cigarette butt and samples taken from a 1997 North Bay crime scene, detectives in North Bay were able to link the 34-year-old man, formerly of Sturgeon Falls, Ont., to the previously unsolved crimes in Edmonton, Toronto and North Bay.

"I know the capabilities of DNA," said North Bay police Detective Dan Webber. "It has exonerated and convicted people."

Mr. Hachey's crimes date back to 1988, but it was the 1997 death of Sarah Whitehead in North Bay that tipped police to his other crimes. The 20-year-old was sexually assaulted and slain after she left a shopping mall.

North Bay police interviewed hundreds of witnesses, followed countless leads and took DNA samples from suspects across North America while investigating Ms. Whitehead's death. They had no luck until a phone call pointed them to Mr. Hachey.

The Ontario Provincial Police in Sturgeon Falls had a warrant for Mr. Hachey's arrest. He was wanted for stealing a bike. When an officer heard Mr. Hachey had been arrested in Calgary for a violent sexual assault in December, 1997, the officer contacted police in North Bay and said there might be a connection to Ms. Whitehead's death.

Calgary police sent a cigarette butt left at the crime scene to North Bay. "DNA came back and it was a perfect match," Mr. Webber said.

Mr. Hachey was serving a 19-year sentence for the sexual assault in Calgary when, in May, 1999, police in North Bay charged him with first-degree murder in connection with Ms. Whitehead's death. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Mr. Hachey then admitted to police that he had killed a 46-year-old man in Toronto and sexually assaulted three women in Edmonton. This lead to a joint investigation by police in the three cities.

Larry Arnold of Chatham, Ont., was slain in Toronto on Oct. 14, 1994. His badly beaten body was found in a downtown ravine weeks later. Toronto police investigated the death, but it remained unsolved until Mr. Hachey confessed to the crime. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder yesterday in connection with the case.

The sexual assaults in Edmonton took place between 1988 and 1997. The first involved a 14-year-old girl who was delivering newspapers early in the morning on Sept. 14, 1988. She was grabbed, dragged into a wooded area and sexually assaulted.

Less than two months later, Mr. Hachey said, he sexually assaulted another woman. He broke through an Edmonton basement apartment window, tied up a 39-year-old woman and sexually assaulted her while her six-year-old daughter slept nearby.

The third assault he pleaded guilty to yesterday involved a young woman in an Edmonton hotel room.