In 2023, a cascade of long-standing mysteries finally met their end.
The unwavering commitment of detectives, forensic experts and other devoted individuals played a pivotal role in uncovering the truth behind cold cases this year.
As we reflect on the events of 2023, let’s revisit the investigative breakthroughs that brought closure to victims’ families and communities as justice prevailed.
Cold case murder of Kansas woman solved with “cutting-edge” DNA technology
The 34-year-old cold case of the murder of Krista Martin, 20, in Kansas was solved using advanced DNA technology.
DNA evidence was collected after the Oct. 2, 1989, sexual assault and beating murder of Martin, but testing wasn’t available at the time.
Various attempts to find a match over the years were unsuccessful until 2021, when a genetic genealogy team, including an FBI special agent and a Wichita police detective, identified a man named Paul Hart as the suspect.
Hart was Martin’s neighbor at the time of the murder, according to police.
The department said charges would have been filed against Hart if he were still alive, but he died in a car crash in 1999.
Ember Moore, Martin’s niece, thanked the investigators who solved her aunt’s murder at a press conference.
“On behalf of my family and myself I would like to say thank you to the Wichita Cold Case Unit and the Wichita Homicide Department for all their hard work and dedication to Krista’s case,” Moore said. “I am glad we can finally move forward and have peace knowing that Krista’s murderer is not walking around free or among us.”
Investigators crack 1972 cold-case murder of 9-year-old girl
Georgia authorities solved the 51-year-old cold case involving the murder of 9-year-old Debbie Lynn Randall.
Randall was abducted, raped and strangled to death in 1972 while walking home from a laundromat.
Authorities identified William Rose as the suspect in her killing. Rose took his own life two years after the crime.
Recent advances in genetic genealogy technology played a crucial role in linking Rose to the crime after investigators obtained a familial DNA profile.
Randall’s brother, Melvin Randall, spoke during a press conference announcing the conclusion of his sister’s murder case.
“I wish my mother was here, but I know she knows in Heaven now that it’s finally over, and we just want to say that we thank all of you for what you’ve done,” he said.
“After a while… I blamed myself for it because I was her big brother, and I battled with it for a while, but then I realized that there was nothing I could have done, and it just happened, and it wasn’t my fault. I’m just grateful for the community.”
West Virginia man arrested in connection to 1985 cold case, said he stabbed 13-year-old boy in argument over bike
After nearly four decades, a breakthrough occurred in the cold case of a 13-year-old West Virginia boy who was murdered in 1985.
Jerimiah “Jerry” Matthew Watkins was stabbed to death in Terra Alta, West Virginia. His body was found in a shallow hole near railroad tracks.
The Preston County Sheriff’s Office arrested 56-year-old David Monroe Adams for second-degree murder in connection with the case.
Adams, who was 18 at the time of the crime, confessed that an argument over a stolen bicycle led to Watkins’ murder, according to the sheriff’s office.
Oregon man confesses to “brutal, ice-blooded” murder in Boston
A 44-year-old cold case involving the murder of Susan Marcia Rose in Boston, Massachusetts, was solved this year.
The case was brought to a conclusion came when 68-year-old John Michael Irmer walked into the Portland FBI field office in August and confessed to the murder.
Irmer said he fatally attacked Rose with a hammer after meeting her at a skating rink, and a DNA match linked him to the crime scene.
Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden’s office said Rose’s family, after nearly 44 years, finally has answers after losing her at such a young age.
“This was a brutal, ice-blooded murder made worse by the fact that a person was charged and tried — and fortunately, found not guilty — while the real murderer remained silent until now,” the DA said in a statement. “No matter how cold cases get resolved, it’s always the answers that are important for those who have lived with grief and loss and so many agonizing questions.”
“Lady of the Dunes” case solved 49 years after grisly murder mystified vacation town
The 49-year-old cold case of the “Lady of the Dunes” was solved, revealing that Ruth Marie Terry, a 37-year-old Tennessee native, was killed by her late husband.
Terry’s nearly decapitated body was discovered in the sand dunes of Provincetown, Massachusetts, in 1974.
The case remained unsolved for decades until genetic genealogy testing at a Texas-based forensics lab positively identified Terry.
Guy Rockwell Muldavin, the man linked to the murder, died in 2002, according to authorities.
California police solve 32-year cold case with DNA found under victim’s fingernails
Northern California police solved a 32-year-old cold case, bringing closure to the family of Vicki Johnson, who was murdered in 1991.
Johnson’s case gained attention after her body was found near a playground in Seaside’s Sabado Park, having been suffocated with sand, bitten, strangled and set on fire.
DNA found under her fingernails led to a match, identifying the murderer as Frank Lewis McClure, a Seaside resident and ex-convict who died in 2021.
Johnson’s son, Orlando Johnson, who is now a 34-year-old NBA player, has honored his late mother’s memory throughout his basketball career.
He has shared photos on social media, including ones on Mother’s Day and his mother’s birthday.
“Looking forward to having one of our heart to hearts and bringing you some flowers when I’m back,” Johnson wrote. “Your boys love and miss you, your family is always thinking about you and missing you.”
Kentucky teen’s murder solved after nearly half a century
The Boone County Sheriff’s Office in Kentucky solved a 46-year-old cold case involving the murder of 16-year-old Carol Sue Klaber.
Klaber’s body was discovered in a roadside ditch on Chambers Road in Walton, Kentucky, on June 5, 1976.
The initial investigation, led by the Kentucky State Police, revealed that she had died from blunt force trauma, with signs of strangulation and sexual assault.
With the help of advanced DNA testing, detectives identified Thomas Dunaway as Klaber’s murderer.
Dunaway was 19 when he murdered Klaber. He died at the age of 33 after building up a lengthy criminal history, authorities said.
New Hampshire woman’s 1981 murder solved with DNA evidence
Law enforcement officials in New Hampshire solved a cold case dating back more than four decades, utilizing DNA analysis and forensic genealogy technology.
The victim, 23-year-old Laura Kempton, was found dead in her apartment in September 1981.
Kempton, a Portsmouth Beauty School student who worked at a gift shop and ice cream parlor, was last seen earlier that morning, returning alone to her apartment after a night out with a friend, police said.
Ronny James Lee, the man police say is responsible for killing Kempton, died from an overdose in 2005.
Kempton’s family issued a statement expressing their “deepest gratitude” to the Portsmouth Police Department.
“Their diligence and determination, along with extraordinary personal commitment over the past decades, have led to this moment for Laura,” the Kempton family said.
“Unprovable” rape case in California cracked with DNA
Authorities in Washington state utilized DNA evidence from a separate crime to make an arrest in one of the nation’s oldest cold case murders.
Harold Carpenter, 63, was arrested in connection with the 1979 murder of Patricia Carnahan in California, a case that had remained unsolved for decades.
Carnahan had been beaten, strangled and left for dead at a South Lake Tahoe campground.
A critical lead emerged when DNA from a Spokane, Washington, rape case in 1994, initially deemed “unprovable,” was retested. The DNA match linked Carpenter to Carnahan’s murder.
“Every untested kit could be a potential break in a cold case,” Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “Hard work and cross-state collaboration made this case successful. I’m grateful for the hard work from law enforcement to pursue justice in this case.”