Beer Mug DNA Leads to Arrest in 40-Year-Old Rape, Murder

Florida's James Clanton has been extradited to Colorado
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 17, 2019 5:58 PM CST
Beer Mug DNA Leads to Arrest in 40-Year-Old Rape, Murder
Helene Pruszynski   (Douglas County Sheriff's Office)

A 1980 sketch of a possible murderer made from a hypnotized witness' description looks much like the man police have now arrested on DNA evidence. James Curtis Clanton, 62, of Union County, Fla., is charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping in the death of 21-year-old college student Helene Pruszynski, who was repeatedly raped and stabbed nine times in the back in a field on her way home from a bus stop in the Denver suburb of Englewood on Jan. 16, 1980, per the Denver Post. Clanton, who was 22 at the time of the crime, couldn't be charged with sexual assault as the the statute of limitations had passed. Still, DNA from semen collected at the scene matched that taken from a beer mug Clanton used at a Florida bar around Thanksgiving, according to Douglas County sheriff's detectives, who first identified him through genealogy databases.

In 1975, he'd been convicted of raping a woman at knifepoint in Arkansas but ended up serving only four years in prison. He then moved to Colorado and lived blocks from the bus stop Pruszynski visited. A senior at Massachusetts' Wheaton College, Pruszynski had been staying with relatives while interning at Denver's KHOW radio. "This was a young girl who was just starting her life," Sheriff Tony Spurlock says, per CBS Denver. "She wanted to be in journalism. She wanted to be a part of a bigger story." A woman who saw a man near the field on the night of the murder worked with a sketch artist and hypnotist to produce an image that resembles a 1998 booking photo of Clanton, per the Post. He had then been arrested on domestic violence charges. Authorities are now expected to investigate whether other assaults in the area around that time are linked to Clanton. (More cold cases stories.)

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