DNA from 1994 Rape Kit Leads to Arrest in 43-Year-Old California Murder Case

This Feb. 8, 2017, photo, sexual assault evidence collection kit are shown during committee meeting at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. Utah crime lab officials are feeling optimistic as they work to speed up the time it takes to process sexual assault evidence kits, after lawmakers approved …
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

A suspect has finally been arrested in a more than four-decades-old California murder case after DNA from a 1994 rape helped identify him.

The suspect, Harold Carpenter, 63, was arrested in Washington State on Wednesday – miles and years away from his alleged murder of Patricia Carnahan, the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office announced. He awaits extradition to California, where he is wanted on a murder warrant.

Carnahan, whose body was unidentified for decades, was “beaten, strangled, and left for dead at a South Lake Tahoe campground” on September 28, 1979, according to the DA’s Office. An investigation yielded no arrests, and authorities were unable to identify the victim. However, they used a sexual assault kit (SAK) during their evidence collection that produced a DNA sample.

Ultimately, she was buried with a headstone reading, “Unknown Female.”

Cold Case Murder Arrest follows Test of Decades-Old Rape Kit A murder suspect in a 1979 cold case in El Dorado County…

Posted by El Dorado County District Attorney on Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Decades went by before the D.A.’s office reopened the case in 2015, the D.A.’s office noted. They brought in an anthropologist to exhume the remains, and images of her jewelry were published in local newspapers in hopes of identifying her. A family member recognized a pendant, and family DNA testing confirmed the remains belonged to Carnahan. Her family was able to give her a proper burial.

However, her killer remained on the loose, though they still had DNA from the SAK.

Carpenter’s DNA was collected in a separate 1994 rape case in Spokane, Washington, the Los Angeles Times reported. Charges were never brought, and the D.A. said the case at the time was “deemed ‘unprovable.'” The DNA sat untested for years.

In 2017, the state launched the Washington State Attorney General’s Offices Sexual Assault Kit Initiative to address backlogged DNA that had been untested. Prosecutors say that through the initiative, Carpenter’s DNA sample from 1994 was tested this year and matched “DNA evidence collected from Carnahan.”

The release noted:

Once the kit was tested, the CODIS system – the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System – recently found that the DNA collected from the Washington victim also matched the DNA evidence collected from Patricia Carnahan, identifying the suspect in her murder as Harold Carpenter.

After establishing probable cause, El Dorado County investigators went to Washington and assisted Spokane authorities with the arrest.

El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson praised his detectives and all agencies involved.

“Because of the tireless dedication of our investigators, she was identified and returned to her family. Now due to multi-state collaboration by numerous agencies her killer will finally be held accountable,” he said in a statement.

“Cases like this illustrate the need to test every sexual assault kit and get their DNA profiles loaded into the federal database,” said Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson in the release.

Prosecutors will not pursue the Spokane rape case “as the statute of limitations has expired,” per the release.

DNA testing played a key role in helping to identify Joseph James DeAngelo as the Golden State Killer in 2018, as Breitbart News reported.


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