The Boone County Sheriff’s Office in Kentucky recently announced that they solved a cold case from 50 years ago using genetic genealogy research.
According to the sheriff’s office, detectives solved the murder of 16-year-old Carol Sue Klaber, whose body was found in a ditch on Chambers Road in Walton, Kentucky, in 1976, by analyzing the killer’s DNA.
However, the road to solving the crime was complex and may never have been solved if it was not for modern science.
At the time, it was determined that Klaber had been raped, beaten and strangled to death after going for a bike ride in Devou Park.
Witnesses said they saw Klaber enter a white Chevrolet or Pontiac on June 4 in Devou Park. That was the last time Klaber was seen alive.
Two suspects were considered for nearly a decade but eventually eliminated based on available evidence.
In 2017, investigators with the sheriff’s office’s Cold Case Unit reopened the case and sent the available DNA and fingerprint evidence for analysis and genealogy testing at Houston-based private lab Orthom Inc.
Season of Justice, a nonprofit organization that helps law enforcement agencies solve cold cases, provided the funds to help investigators send the DNA from the Kentucky State Police Central Forensic Center to Othram.
Based on the results, detectives now believe the murderer was Thomas Dunaway, who was 19 at the time.
Detectives said the lab was able to create a genetic profile of the killer by analyzing the DNA through forensic-grade genome sequencing and matching it with that of relatives on online databases. From the leads generated in the profile, detectives were led to Dunaway, who also owned a car similar to the one that witnesses described.
Disturbingly, Dunaway lived just a mile and half away from Klaber at the time.
On the day after the murder, Dunaway joined the Army. He later deserted and killed another person named Ron Townsend in northern Kentucky, for which he spent seven and a half years in prison.
He died of a heart attack in 1990 at the age of 33.
Detective Coy Cox was happy to finally bring closure to the family, especially for Klaber’s older brother.
“He had the most difficult thing to do in this case,” Cox said. “He identified his sister back when it happened. So, to say he had closure in this case is an understatement.”
“We don’t have Carol anymore, and she had a lot of people in her life who loved her, like we all do, had family members. And for someone that young to be taken, it’s a very tragic event and it’s something you’ll hear people say, ‘That’s got to be tragic to live with.’ But you live with it the rest of your life, and to sit down with family members and see that closure come to them physically, and then they [tell you how much it means], it means a lot,” Cox added.
Dunaway was let out of prison being for unknown reasons. Police believe Dunaway may have committed other murders as well and have exhumed his remains to enter his DNA into a national database.
“The exhumation was completed so we could get the DNA and submit that to the Kentucky State Police Lab,” Cox said “Our hope is to get that into the national database so Thomas Dunaway can be held accountable for all the crimes that he committed.”