DNA evidence leads to arrest of murder suspect in 1979 El Dorado County cold case

DNA evidence leads to arrest of murder suspect in 1979 El Dorado County cold case

Investigators this week arrested a man in Washington state on suspicion of murder in the death of an El Dorado County woman more than 43 years ago — after DNA testing of a decade-old rape kit linked him to the crime, prosecutors said.

Harold Warren Carpenter, 63, remained in custody at the Spokane County Jail Wednesday afternoon. Carpenter is accused of beating and choking Patricia Carnahan, according to El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office.

A nationwide effort to eliminate the backlog of untested sexual assault kits led to an unrelated rape investigation in 1994 in Spokane. Evidence gathered in that investigation led to the unsolved California cold case.

Prosecutors said it was one of the nation’s oldest cold-case homicides solved through sexual assault DNA kits uploaded to a federal database, and the 13th case resulting from “canine detective work” since it was created. of the Cold-Case Task Force in El Dorado County.

“Tragically, Ms. Carnahan was buried in a potter’s field under the heading of an ‘unknown female,'” El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pearson said in a news release. “Due to the tireless dedication of our investigators, he was located and returned to his family. Now, thanks to the multi-state cooperation of many agencies, his killer must finally be held accountable.”

The body was found at a South Lake Tahoe campground

Prosecutors said Carnahan was found dead at a South Lake Tahoe campground on Sept. 28, 1979. His body was recovered, but his identity remained unknown for 36 years. She was initially buried in a nondescript grave marked “Unknown Female Tahoma 9-79”.

According to the district attorney, in 1979 investigators collected evidence at the campground crime scene, including a sexual assault kit that yielded a DNA sample. At this time, no suspect could be arrested.

In 2015, investigators from the El Dorado County Cold Case Homicide Unit revived the case. Chico, a forensic anthropologist at California State University, exhumed the victim’s body.

Detectives released photos of the unidentified woman’s jewelry to the media. Family members identified a pendant Carnahan was wearing. Authorities compared and matched the family’s DNA to Carnahan’s, and they later released her body to her family for a proper burial.

But investigators still don’t know who killed Carnahan. Prosecutors said an initiative by the Washington attorney general’s office to eliminate a statewide backlog of unnecessary sexual assault kits led to unrelated rape investigations.

The sexual assault kit was untested in the Spokane rape case until earlier this year. Prosecutors said the case would not proceed because the statute of limitations had expired, and the victim had died.

FBI database leads to arrests

Test results from the Spokane sexual assault kit were uploaded to the CODIS system — the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System — to find that the DNA there also matched DNA evidence collected from the Carnahan scene. Prosecutors said evidence pointed to Carpenter as a suspect.

El Dorado County investigators said they received probable cause evidence to arrest Carpenter on suspicion of murder and traveled to Washington to assist the Spokane Police Department in arresting him.

A $3 million federal grant to the Washington Attorney General’s Office for a 1994 sexual-assault test kit, which allows authorities to upload a suspect’s DNA profile to CODIS.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said “hard work and cross-state cooperation” resulted in the successful conclusion of an unsolved case.

“Cases like this illustrate the need to test every sexual assault kit and load their DNA profiles into a federal database,” Ferguson said in a news release. “Every untested kit can be a potential break in a cold case.”

Carpenter was booked into the Spokane County Jail Monday afternoon, where he is awaiting extradition to California to face murder charges.

Investigators ask anyone with relevant information about the El Dorado County homicide case or Carpenter to call the El Dorado Cold Case Task Force 530-621-4590 or send an email [email protected].

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