A Florida trucker pleaded guilty this week to the rape and murder of 21-year-old radio station intern Helene Pruszynski 40 years ago, the Denver Channel reported.
Colorado police tracked James Curtis Clanton, 61, using DNA and genealogical databases and arrested him on December 16, as CrimeOnline previously reported.
Clanton was known as Curtis Allen White on January 16, 1980, when he abducted Pruszynski just after she’d gotten off a buss in Englewood at the end of her work day. He raped her, stabbed her to death, and dumped her body in a field, where it was found the following day. Pruszynski, from Hamilton, Massachusetts, had been in Colorado for just a few weeks, working at KHOW radio, when she was killed.
Clanton pleaded guilty in court on Friday to first degree murder. Three other murder counts and a kidnapping charged were dropped, according to the Denver Channel. He was not charged with sexual assault because the statute of limitations had run out.
“While we were prepared to go forward at trial, we are pleased that Mr. Clanton made the decision to plead guilty. I am very proud of all the hard work and dedication that was put into solving this case,” Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said in a news release Friday. “We sincerely hope that this brings closure one step closer for Helene’s only surviving sibling as well as the many friends she had.”
As CrimeOnline reported in December, the hunt for Pruszynski’s killer went cold after about a year, but because the unknown suspect had left behind semen, the chance of someday tracking him down remained. Police reopened the case in 1998, but the DNA profile they developed matched no one in the nascent DNA databases.
They returned to the case in 2017, the Eagle Tribune reported, and, with the advent of genealogical DNA databases such as those at ancestry.com and GEDmatch.com, investigators were able to track a possible match — Clanton or his brother. Clanton’s brother was not a match for the DNA left at the scene, but detectives watching him in Butler, Florida, where he lived, secured a beer mug he’d been drinking from — and found the match.
Clanton returns to court on April 10 for sentencing and faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole in 20 years, the Highlands Ranch Herald reported.
For the latest true crime and justice news, subscribe to the ‘Crime Stories with Nancy Grace’ podcast.
[Featured image: Helene Pruszynski/Douglas County Sheriff’s Office]