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Winter Distraction

Our First Cold Case Murder Arrest

January 13, 2020   Tags: , , , , ,
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The Murder of Helene Pruszynski:
In January of 1980, Helene Pruszynski moved to Douglas County, Colorado. The 21 -year-old Wheaton College student was an aspiring journalist. She had just begun an internship at the local radio station KHOW. On January 16th, she took the bus from downtown Denver to Littleton after work. She would walk home from the bus stop—but during the walk that evening, she was abducted. 
 
By 10:30 PM that night, the aunt Helene was staying with knew something was wrong. She immediately called the police. Helene’s body was discovered the next day in a field. She was nude from the waist down and her hands were bound behind her back. She had been sexually assaulted and stabbed nine times in the back.

The offender left behind semen on the victim according to court records. At the time, the investigation went cold. Detectives were dogged in their search for Helene’s killer.
 
As technology advanced, the DNA from the semen was put into databases hoping that something would get a hit. And for years they got nothing. But then Murder Squad listener Jessi learned about GEDMatch from the podcast—and decided to add her DNA profile to that database. 

Jessi was contacted by the Douglas County law enforcement in June. She was told her DNA matched to be a third cousin of an offender in a cold case. Law enforcement asked her to compile a family tree. 

Jessi and a friend did just that. Jessi also had her parents enter their DNA on GEDMatch. From that, they learned the offender was related through her dad's side-which helped narrow down the family data needed.

Last month, Jessi learned her hard work and willingness to have her DNA on GEDMatch helped to find the offender in the case of Helene Pruszynski.

The Suspect: James Curtis Clanton 
Once law enforcement had the genetic genealogy profile—and they worked with CECE Moore at Parabon Nanolabs--they had to zero in on the offender. They still had to get a sample of his DNA. Law enforcement found 62-year-old James Curtis Clanton in Florida. 

A detective trailed him to a bar. And he monitored him as he ordered several beers—each time pouring them into a mug. Finally Clanton declared he was done drinking for the morning. The mug was gathered as evidence after Clanton left the bar, and it was tested. When the DNA came back, Douglas County knew they had Helene’s killer.
Clanton's Background:

In 1975, five years before Helene’s murder, Clanton pled guilty to rape at knifepoint in Arkansas. At the time he was known by Curtis Allen White. According to authorities, he’d asked to use a woman’s phone, then at knife point coerced her to the bedroom and assaulted her.
 
After pleading guilty to first degree rape, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. But he served just four years before he was paroled in 1979. In the court record he was quoted as saying, “I want to be paroled because I have people that care about me now and I have adjusted myself.” 
 
After being paroled, Clanton moved to his children’s home counselor in Littleton, Colorado. Then he relocated to the same city that Helene would eventually move to—Englewood. 
 
The time after Helene’s murder, Clanton worked jobs at vacuum companies, landscaping and most recently as a truck driver. He had a few relationships. He married his first wife in 1980—and the marriage only lasted 30 days. 
 
In 1982, he made the move to Florida. There he changed his name—got married and divorced again. He seemed to stay out of trouble with the law until 1998. At that point he was arrested for domestic violence.

In December of 2019, Clanton was arrested in Florida. He was charged with first-degree murder and second-degree kidnapping. He has been extradited to Colorado. His next court date is in February.

Correction: 
The forensic genealogy company that worked on this case was United Data Connect.

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