40-Year-Old Cold Case Killing of Aspiring Journalist Helene Pruszynski Is Solved Thanks to New Technology

Murder victim Helene Pruszynski, 21, killed was identified and charged through DNA technology.
Wheaton College Massachusetts

Helene Pruszynski was a student attending Wheaton College in Massachusetts when she moved to Colorado to work as an intern at a Denver radio station. She was on her way to a relative's house after work when she was kidnapped on Jan. 16, 1980.

The 40-year-old cold case killing of a 21-year old aspiring journalist who had been kidnapped, raped and stabbed to death was solved this year thanks to a technology that has become increasingly crucial in closing cases that have otherwise gone unsolved for decades.

Helene Pruszynski was a student attending Wheaton College in Massachusetts. She had moved to Colorado to work as an intern at a Denver radio station. On Jan. 16, 1980, as she walked off the bus and headed to her relative's home after work, she was kidnapped. Her body was found in a field the next day. She had been raped and stabbed multiple times in the back, according to the Denver Post.

Although evidence had been collected at the crime scene, detectives were unable to find her killer and the case went cold.

In 2017, Douglas County investigators uploaded DNA evidence into a genealogy database, including GEDmatch.com, and identified some distant relatives of the alleged killer, People reported. 

After a two-year investigation, James Curtis Clanton, 63, was identified as the person who killed Pruszynski. At the time of the murder, Clanton had been living in Colorado and had gone under the alias, Curtis White, according to People.

In July, Clanton was arrested and pleaded guilty to Pruszynski’s rape and murder. He was sentenced to life in prison, the Post reported.

Shannon Jensen, a cold-case detective with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, told People that genetic genealogy and DNA were not available at the time of Pruszynski's murder and instead traditional techniques were used. Today, thanks to DNA advancements, it's possible to bring justice and closure to cases like that of Pruszynski's, she said. 

"This new tool gave us the opportunity to reopen the case and identify a suspect,” Jensen said. “It's been a remarkable tool for detectives to utilize.”

Pruszynski’s killing is featured in "People Magazine Investigates: Blood Ties," airing Monday at 10 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery and on discovery+. 

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