Arrest made in decades-old Texas cold case murder to which notorious serial killer had falsely confessed

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Thomas Elvin Darnell of Kansas City, Kansas, was arrested for the 1983 murder of Laura Marie Purchase (Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office)
Thomas Elvin Darnell of Kansas City, Kansas, was arrested for the 1983 murder of Laura Marie Purchase (Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office)

After 38 years, an arrest has been made in the cold case murder of a Houston woman who was found dead in Montgomery County, Texas.

Thomas Elvin Darnell, 75, of Kansas City, Kansas, has been arrested and charged with capital murder in connection with the killing of Laura Marie Purchase.

On 17 March 1983, the body of a naked woman was found by a Sheriff’s Office deputy investigating a fire in a wooded area near Conroe.

An autopsy revealed she had been sexually assaulted and strangled before being set on fire. Traces of a man’s DNA were also found.

As the body had been burned, it took three years for the FBI to match fingerprints to those of Ms Purchase, who had been reported missing.

It was originally thought that Ms Purchase was a victim of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, who confessed to the crime in 1983 and was convicted of it in 1986.

However, in 2007, the Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Squad resubmitted the unknown male’s DNA found during the initial investigation.

Lucas, and his alleged codefendant Otis Elwood Toole, were subsequently eliminated from the investigation based on their DNA samples.

Similar to the case of the Golden State Killer in California, in October 2019 investigators sent the DNA evidence in for genealogy testing, essentially establishing a family tree for their unknown suspect.

By cross-referencing data, Mr Darnell was identified as a potential suspect and a DNA search warrant was obtained.

Montgomery County Cold Case Detectives went to Kansas on 17 March 2021, 38 years later to the day of the death of Ms Purchase, and collected a known DNA sample from Mr Darnell.

On 30 April 30, his DNA sample was positively matched to the DNA collected from the crime scene.

An arrest warrant for capital murder was issued in Montgomery County and Mr Darnell was arrested at his home on 11 May, a release states.

On 20 May, he was extradited to Texas and booked into the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office jail on capital murder charges with no bond.

Henry Lee Lucas was convicted of murdering 11 people between 1960 and 1983.

Originally sentenced to death for the 1979 murder of Debra Jackson, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1998. He died of heart failure in 2001.

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