LOS ANGELES (CN) – Investigators have solved the 41-year-old murder of Karen Klaas, the ex-wife of Righteous Brothers member Bill Medley, after familial DNA linked the crime to a man who police shot and killed 35 years ago.
At a Monday afternoon press conference, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said that authorities identified Kenneth Eugene Troyer after making a familial match on the state’s DNA database this year.
“Through the perseverance of detectives and the familial DNA process we were able to finally provide some degree of closure to Karen's family,” McDonnell said, flanked members of law enforcement including members of the Hermosa Beach Police Department that concluded the investigation.
Medley, one-half of the musical duo the Righteous Brothers, spoke at the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles. With his sons Darrin and Damien behind him, he told reporters he’d always hoped Klaas’ case would be solved.
“It's closure,” Medley said. “When I was told, I just kind of became numb because this is something you've been hoping for – speculating about for 40 years – and all of sudden they say 'we got him' and here's who did it.”
He added, “We miss Karen and the most important thing is the boys didn't get to grow up with their mother. She would have been an incredible grandma and she was a wonderful, wonderful girl. My ex-wife was one of my best friends after the divorce.”
Troyer strangled and sexually assaulted the 32-year-old Klass on Jan. 30, 1976. Authorities found her inside her Hermosa Beach Home and collected biological evidence from the scene that was later used to make the DNA match. Klaas was taken to the hospital and was in a coma for five days before she died on Feb. 4, 1976.
She was due to meet two friends and neighbors for coffee after taking her young son to the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach. When she did not show, one of her friends went to her home and observed a male white man with bushy, curly brown hair leaving the house.
There were initially five possible suspects who were ultimately ruled out by DNA analysis.
The case went cold, but detectives revived the investigation in 1999. As DNA technology improved, investigators began to use familial DNA in murder investigations, allowing them to link relatives in the state database to suspects.
Investigators could not make a match on the state database when they tried in 2011. But this year they made a match.
Sheriff’s Capt. Steve Katz said a close relative was the source of the confirming sample but declined to identify him.
“It's a very close relative. A father, son, an immediate relative, and in this case the evidence clearly pointed to a male perpetrator,” Katz said. “There was a qualifying crime that resulted in the collection of DNA at that time which was then uploaded into the database."
Troyer was shot and killed in March 1982, after escaping from California Men’s Colony State Prison in San Obispo weeks earlier. By that time, he was identified as a suspect in other robberies, assaults and rapes in Orange County, the Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.
District Attorney Jackie Lacey said the county is leading the way in solving cases using familial DNA searches.
“It was just seven years ago that we conducted California’s first familial DNA search which resulted in removing Lonnie Franklin Jr., the serial killer known as the Grim Sleeper, from our community,” Lacey said in prepared statement.
Medley said he’d come to terms with the possibility that the case would never be solved.
“I'm happy for the family that we get to close the book,” he said.