Man arrested in intern's 1980 cold case rape, murder thanks to DNA match

Helene Pruszynski, 21, was stabbed to death in 1980.

Decades after a 21-year-old radio station intern was raped and murdered, DNA and genetic genealogy have finally led to her suspected killer, authorities said Monday.

In January 1980, Helene Pruszynski, an aspiring journalist and Massachusetts college student, was in Douglas County, Colorado, to intern at a radio station, Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said. She had only been in town two weeks when she was killed, he said at a news conference Monday.

Pruszynski was walking home from the bus stop when she was abducted, according to authorities.

The next day her body was found in a field, partially naked with her hands behind her back, according to court documents. She had been stabbed nine times in the back, according to court documents filed last week.

Semen was recovered on the victim, but the case went cold, according to documents.

This year, law enforcement worked with DNA technology companies United Data Connect and Parabon NanoLabs to use genetic genealogy to identify the suspect as James Clanton, officials said.

Genetic genealogy compares unknown DNA evidence from a crime scene -- like the suspect's semen -- to public genealogy databases, which are populated by the DNA of family members who voluntarily upload their DNA on their own.

Genetic genealogy has been called a "game-changer" in cracking cold cases. Since the arrest of the suspected "Golden State Killer" in April 2018, about 100 suspects have been identified through the technology, according to Parabon NanoLabs Chief Genetic Genealogist CeCe Moore, who worked on the Pruszynski case.

The genealogists' identifications of family members helped investigators zero in on Clanton as a possible suspect. After investigators followed him and collected a beer mug he had used, Clanton's DNA was determined this month to be the source of the semen at the crime scene, according to court documents.

At the time of Pruszynski's slaying, Clanton -- who then was known as Curtis White -- had just moved to Douglas County from Arkansas, Spurlock said.

In 1975, Clanton pled guilty to a rape at knifepoint, according to court documents.

He served four years in prison and was paroled in 1979, according to court documents. He was not required to register as a sex offender when he was paroled and his DNA was not submitted to the law enforcement database CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), according to court documents.

Clanton, now 62, most recently lived in Florida and worked as a truck driver, officials said.

Charges against Clanton include felony murder predicated on an underlying crime of robbery and felony murder predicated on an underlying crime of sexual assault, District Attorney George Brauchler said. He made an initial appearance on Monday and his preliminary hearing has been set for Feb. 21.

Pruszynski's sister -- her only immediate family member still alive -- has been notified of the arrest, said the sheriff.

Top Stories

Top Stories

Top Stories

Top Stories

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events