NEWPORT BEACH (CBSLA) — A man accused of raping and killing an 11-year-old girl in Newport Beach almost five decades ago died while in custody early Wednesday morning after being hospitalized for an unspecified illness, authorities said.

James Alan Neal has been arrested in the July 1973 murder of 11-year-old Linda Ann O’Keefe in Newport Beach. Feb. 20, 2019. (Newport Beach Police Department)

James Alan Neal, 73, who was being held at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, was taken to an area hospital May 25 due to an unspecified illness. Officials said he was not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

Neal was booked into custody by the Newport Beach Police Department on March 11, 2019 on charges of murder and child molestation in the July 1973 killing of 11-year-old Linda Ann O’Keefe.

“The pursuit of justice is never-ending, and in this case the hunt for a child rapist and murderer lasted more than 46 years and transcended generations of law enforcement officers,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement. “It was not if, but when we would find the killer of 11-year-old Linda O’Keefe, and when that day finally came in 2019 as a result of advances in investigative genetic genealogy, we thought we were one step closer to justice for Linda and her family.

“The death of James Neal prior to putting him on trial for Linda’s rape and murder robs the O’Keefe family of the justice they so deserve and deprives the law enforcement officers of the satisfaction that they finally got their culprit.”

Neal was also facing multiple charges of sexual assault for alleged attacks on two children in Riverside County in the 1990s and early 2000s. According to prosecutors, those alleged offenses were uncovered during the investigation into Linda’s death.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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