Forty-Year-Old Cold Case Cracked by DNA Science

Forty-Year-Old Cold Case Cracked by DNA Science

Douglas County Sheriff's Office; Union County Sheriff's Office

In 1980, the murder of 21-year-old college student Helene Pruszynski went unsolved. Despite going to college in Massachusetts, Helene traveled to Colorado so she could work as an intern at local radio station KHOW-AM. Helene was only in the area for two weeks before being abducted, abused, and viciously murdered. Thanks to genetic science, however, her killer has been apprehended.

College Student Murdered in 1980

Helene Pruszynski, who traveled to Colorado in 1980, was viciously murdered after she was abducted by an unknown assailant. When her body was discovered, it was partly nude, hands tied behind her back and bearing nine stab wounds. An autopsy confirmed she was likely raped before being killed.

Sadly, police had little physical evidence to go on, and the case was cold within a year. Police exhausted technology and methods available to them at the time. Helene’s murder was periodically reexamined, such as in 1998, but these investigations never turned up any new evidence. That is, until new technology made a breakthrough possible.

Helene Pruszynski’s Cold Case Gets a Lead

In 2013, a cold case review team was created to use new technology to investigate older crimes. This team eventually landed on Helene Pruszynski’s cold case and used genealogy and DNA sequencing technology to determine who killed the college student. James Curtis Clanton, 62, was arrested on December 11 in connection to the Pruszynski case.

Clanton, who had been living in Union County, Florida, was extradited to Colorado on charges including the abductions and murder of Helene Pruszynski 40 years ago. He was not, however, charged with sexual assault, as the statute of limitations on that crime has since run out. There is no statute of limitations in murder cases, though.

Forensic Genealogy Identifies a Killer

Clanton was ID’d as the killer thanks to forensic genealogy. Utilizing online genealogy websites to determine who left DNA at the scene of Pruszynski’s murder, police narrowed suspects down to a few individuals. Clanton was singled out due to a 1975 case where he plead guilty to a sexual assault he committed at knifepoint, perfectly matching the M.O. in the Pruszynski case.

Clanton is now awaiting trial for his alleged crimes in Colorado. If he is found guilty, it will mean that Helene’s family will finally be able to face the person responsible for her untimely passing. While that might be cold comfort after 40 years, justice served late is better than justice never served.