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DNA leads Douglas County Sheriff’s Office to suspect in 1980 murder

By Benjamin Minick

Contributing Writer for Telegraph Local| @TimberwolfP

DNA evidence has now helped a Douglas county Colorado sheriff’s Department solve 40-year-old Cold Case murder. A 62-year-old man named James Curtis Clanton was tracked down to Florida and has now been extradited back to Colorado to face several charges including first-degree murder and a kidnapping charge.

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The victim was 21-year-old radio intern Helene Pruszynski. Who vanished after work on January 16th, 1980 and was found brutally murdered having been raped and stabbed. The case remained cold in part because the suspect moved to Florida and changed his name two years after the murder.

According to official reports from law enforcement, a sketch that was created with details from a hypnotized Witness looked strikingly familiar to the suspect. While that particular evidence did not help the case initially, it would prove crucial later on.

Despite the case being cold sheriff deputies never closed it and continue to attempt to follow leads; two deputies quietly went down to Florida and followed Clanton for six days trying to acquire his DNA. The investigators did eventually recover the DNA from three separate mugs that the suspect had been drinking from at a bar.

Acting on a hunch sheriff’s deputies had taken DNA collected at the crime scene and used modern technology, ancestry sites to scan for a match. They then began to piece the puzzle together, finding siblings of the suspect and eventually narrowing it down to him. Even at 62 years old, he still looks remarkably similar to the original police sketch. Kudos to those police officers for their ingenuity and closing a case that allows a family to be at peace.

There are critics of the techniques that were used by law enforcement in this case and others across the country; however, obtaining the evidence was done in a completely legal manner. Once your DNA is collected for sites such as these and your family tree becomes public knowledge it also becomes public record.

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Who knows, this may become commonplace for law enforcement when it comes to unsolved cases. DNA markers that are left behind at crime scenes can last for a long time if preserved correctly. All it takes is a single hair. In this case, semen that was collected at the crime scene had an exact DNA match to the DNA collected from the beer mugs.

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