After 42 years, Upper Arlington police say they have identified a suspect in the death of 8-year-old Asenath Dukat, whose homicide has been one of the area's most infamous unsolved cases.
On Thursday, Upper Arlington police posted an update on their website, saying that DNA technology advancements have helped them identify Brent Strutner as the suspect in the case. Strutner died by suicide in June 1984 at the age of 24.
On June 3, 1980, Dukat left Barrington Elementary School and started the approximately one-mile walk to her home on Malvern Road, but she never got there. About four hours after she was reported missing, Upper Arlington police said Dukat's body was found in a shallow stream at the mouth of a culvert near First Community Village. A 20-pound limestone rock had been used to hit her in the head, police said.
Her death, which remained unsolved for more than four decades, rocked the Upper Arlington community. It also spawned a website: "The Long Walk Home: The Asenath Dukat Project."
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Over the years, police identified more than a dozen people as possible suspects for investigation, and hypnotized a number of people in attempts to solve the case. In the end, it was DNA that led police to the person they believe was the killer.
Police said Strutner was a 1979 graduate of Upper Arlington High School and had been living near Upper Arlington when Dukat was killed.
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In 2008, police received information about a DNA profile being recovered from evidence collected in the case that matched Strutner. Detectives then reexamined every other piece of evidence to determine if Strutner acted alone or with anyone else, but found no DNA to implicate anyone else.
Around the time of Dukat's death, a number of young females were attacked, including an attempt to abduct a young girl on Henderson Road. That attack, Upper Arlington police said, was only months after Dukat's homicide and was made by a man who associated with Strutner. That man, who served time in prison for the attempted abduction, also was investigated as being involved in Dukat's death.
"The Police Division was unable to discover sufficient evidence to also link him to the murder of Asenath," police said.
Detectives also reinterviewed a number of witnesses and people of interest to determine if any other evidence would come to light.
"The division is confident that all investigative leads have been exhausted," police said.
Sgt. Bryan McKean said police interviewed nearly 1,000 witnesses over the more than 40 years of investigation. He said that while police had a DNA profile matching Strutner in 2008, they did not want to release information publicly until they were absolutely certain they had answers.
"We wanted to make sure all the pieces and parts were tied together before we released anything," he said. "(Strutner) was a suspect long before we had the ability to identify him."
Police Chief Steve Farmer said the department has worked tirelessly for years to solve the case.
"This tragic death shook our community in 1980 and the reverberations continue to this day," he said. "Our hearts continue to go out to the Dukat family, and we wish them peace as they continue their healing."
Members of "The Long Walk Home: The Asenath Dukat Project" said in a statement that Thursday's press release from Upper Arlington only confirmed what they've known and shared through their project since its inception in 2019.
"The case may be closed by the City of Upper Arlington, but it is far from closed for us," the group said in a statement. "We applaud the countless hours and hard work that lead to the confirmation of Brent Strutner’s involvement in the crime. However, after viewing the totality of the evidence, it is reasonable to conclude Brent Strutner did not act alone. Our mission will continue based on that belief and as long as the Dukat family and our community continue to support our efforts to bring all involved to justice."
Sgt. McKean said being able to give the Dukat family answers after more than four decades has been bittersweet.
"To say there's joy in closing it isn't true," he said. "This case is all about sadness. For the officers who worked on it, they'll carry it with them forever. This is one of those cases that haunts you."
McKean said the case also spoke to the strength of the community in Upper Arlington. Many residents participated in searches for Dukat when she was reported missing, and have cooperated with the investigation through the years while holding out hope that the case would be solved.
"Every person involved wanted to get to this point," he said. "We hope it brings some little bit of peace to the Dukat family."
Bittersweet is also how Leslie Lyon, a friend of Dukat's, described hearing Thursday's news.
Lyon was 9 years old when her childhood friend was murdered. The two often played jump rope at recess and were in the same Sunday school class at Our Lady of Victory Church in Marble Cliff. Sometimes the girls walked home together, but Lyon was already on her way by the time Dukat's class was excused that day.
"It's still hard to talk about. For most of us who lived through it, there's been so much speculation over the years that it doesn't really bring closure," she said.
The hardest part, Lyon said, is knowing that Strutner is also dead because it means there will be no justice.
"Why did it have to happen in the first place? This senseless, senseless thing," she said. "There will always be a sadness."
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Asenath Dukat: Cold-case murder of 8-year-old girl solved