CASTLE ROCK | A Florida truck driver who was arrested after DNA tied him the killing of a Denver radio station intern nearly 40 years ago pleaded guilty Friday to first-degree murder.
James Curtis Clanton, 62, of Lake Butler, Florida, was arrested in December for the Jan. 16, 1980, slaying and sexual assault of Helene Pruszynski, 21. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 10.
Pruszynski was from Massachusetts and had only been working as an intern at KHOW-AM for two weeks when she was killed. She was found stabbed to death in a field in what is now the sprawling community of Highlands Ranch. Investigators believe she was abducted while walking from a bus stop after work to her aunt’s home in Englewood.
At the time of the slaying, Clanton was on parole in Arkansas after serving about four years in prison for rape. He had been released to live in the Douglas County home of a former counselor who offered to help him.
According to court records, investigators preserved male DNA recovered from the scene, but no analysis was done immediately after the slaying. In 1998, a DNA profile was developed and uploaded to criminal database, but no potential suspects were identified then or over the years as more people were added to it.
Investigators turned to forensic genealogy in 2017 to try to find relatives who had uploaded their DNA profiles to online public databases such as Ancestry.com and GEDmatch.com.
Investigators uploaded the suspect’s DNA information to GEDmatch.com which led to the identification of several potential distant relatives. Two of the top matches later authorized investigators to access their family trees on Ancestry.com.
After eliminating several other relatives, investigators focused on Clanton, formerly known as Curtis Allen White, and went to Florida to monitor him and obtain a surreptitious DNA sample in late November. A beer mug he was seen drinking from at a bar had his DNA on it, according to court records.
District Attorney George Brauchler said Friday that because of the DNA link, “the resolution of a horrible sexual assault and murder in a desolate part of our county four decades ago ended within 15 minutes inside a courtroom this morning.”