DNA from an old razor helped police solve 41-year-old rape and murder cold case

N'dea Yancey-Bragg

After more than 40 years, DNA evidence has linked the unsolved rape and murder of two women in California to a man who died in a Washington prison, police said Wednesday.

DNA taken from a razor used by Arthur Rudy Martinez, who died of cancer in 2014, matches DNA left by the suspect at both crime scenes in the late 1970s, according to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s cold case unit began re-investigating the case in June 2017 nearly four decades after the slayings.

The first victim, Jane Morton, was supposed to be on her way to her best friend’s house in November 1977, according to police. She was found the next day in the back seat of her car on a dirt road with her throat slit.

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This undated photo provided by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office shows murder victim Jane Morton Antunez, whose body was found in her car in Atascadero, Calif., on Nov. 18, 1977. Authorities say DNA evidence has linked the cold-case rape and murder of two women in California's Central Coast to a man who died in a prison in Washington state. The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office said Wednesday, April 17, 2019 that DNA obtained from items owned by Arthur Rudy Martinez recently matched DNA left by the suspect in two killings in Atascadero in the late 1970s.

In January the following year, Patricia Dwyer was found stabbed to death in her home. Both victims were sexually assaulted and had their arms bound behind their backs. While they had mutual friends and frequented the same bar, they didn’t know each other.

Martinez was in the area at the time working in a welding shop while on parole for attempted murder and rape, but left soon after Dwyer’s murder. Because he was on parole, investigators considered  him a suspect but found no evidence to link him to the crimes, Sheriff Ian Parkinson said at a press conference Wednesday.

Martinez then moved to Spokane, Washington where he was sentenced to life in prison after committing several robberies and two more rapes. Parkinson told The Tribune that the motive in both the murders was sexual assault.

This undated photo provided by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office shows murder victim Patricia Dwyer, whose body was found in her home in Atascadero, Calif., on Jan. 11, 1978. Authorities say DNA evidence has linked the cold-case rape and murder of two women in California's Central Coast to a man who died in a prison in Washington state. The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office said Wednesday, April 17, 2019 that DNA obtained from items owned by Arthur Rudy Martinez recently matched DNA left by the suspect in two killings in Atascadero in the late 1970s.

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“That was his history,” Cole told the newspaper. “All of his cases, including the Washington cases, were crimes of opportunity.”

After 16 years in prison, police said Martinez escaped and lived under an alias in California for the next 20 years. In 2014, he finally turned himself in after being diagnosed with terminal cancer so he could get medical treatment in prison, Parkinson explained.

He was sent back to Washington where he died about two months later at the age of 65.

This 1977 photo provided by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office shows Arthur Rudy Martinez. Authorities say DNA evidence has linked the cold-case rape and murder of two women in California's Central Coast to a man who died in a prison in Washington state. The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office said Wednesday, April 17, 2019 that DNA obtained from items owned by Martinez recently matched DNA left by the suspect in two killings in Atascadero in the late 1970s.

When the case was reopened two years later, investigators, along with the Department of Justice’s DNA lab, searched for a familial DNA match to evidence in the case. Police said the DNA matched an inmate serving time on unrelated charges who investigators determined had a relative that lived in the area during the murders: Martinez.

Parkinson said detectives reached out to Martinez’s old girlfriend and found a sample of his DNA on an item she still had. A witness to the 1997 murder who’d helped put together the initial composite sketch “immediately identified Martinez as the suspect she saw,” according to Parkinson.

"We are extremely proud of Detective Clint Cole and his efforts to solve this 41-year-old murder mystery.” Parkinson said. “Our hearts go out to the families of the victims and are hopeful the resolution to these cases brings them some closure.”

This undated photo provided by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office shows Arthur Rudy Martinez. Authorities say DNA evidence has linked the cold-case rape and murder of two women in California's Central Coast to a man who died in a prison in Washington state. The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office said Wednesday, April 17, 2019 that DNA obtained from items owned by Martinez recently matched DNA left by the suspect in two killings in Atascadero in the late 1970s.

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Contributing: The Associated Press

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: DNA from an old razor helped police solve 41-year-old rape and murder cold case