Fugitive arrested in Union County nearly 40 years after alleged rape and murder of 21-year-old woman

Fugitive arrested in Union County nearly 40 years after alleged rape and murder of 21-year-old woman

LAKE BUTLER, Fla. — The Union County Sheriff’s Office arrested 62-year-old James Clanton Dec. 11, nearly 40 years after he allegedly kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered a 21-year-old woman in Douglas County, Colorado.

UCSO said it has been working with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in the investigation of a brutal murder that happened on Jan. 16, 1980.

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According court documents, 21-year-old Helene Pruszynski was found in a field stabbed to death. Investigators think she was abducted walking home from a bus stop after leaving her internship at a local radio station. She had moved to Colorado from Massachusetts just a few weeks before she was raped and murdered.

Helene Pruszynski was raped and murdered Jan. 16, 1980. James Clanton was arrested for the crime in Lake Butler nearly 40 years later. Source: Colorado Bureau of Investigation
Helene Pruszynski was raped and murdered Jan. 16, 1980. James Clanton was arrested for the crime in Lake Butler nearly 40 years later. Source: Colorado Bureau of Investigation

The primary investigation stalled in the spring of 1981 without a suspect being identified. However, the attacker left bodily fluids at the scene.

The evidence was maintained and properly stored for nearly 40 years with the hope that as technology advanced, DCSO would be able to track down the suspect.

Using a new tool called genetic genealogy, investigators identified a potential suspect as 62-year-old James Clanton.

Detectives traveled to Lake Butler where they staked out Clanton.

Agents followed him to a bar where they collected his DNA from a beer mug.

The sample was sent to the laboratory for analysis and comparison.

Investigators said the DNA on the beer mug matched the suspect DNA in the Pruszynski murder.

The investigation into Clanton revealed that he had been living in Union County for more than a decade and worked as a truck driver. He had no run-ins with law enforcement in Union County.

He legally changed his name a number of years ago, according to investigators.

Clanton was arrested and charged with a fugitive from justice warrant for homicide out of Douglas County. He was booked into Union County with no bond.

He was flown to Colorado on Dec. 13 to face the charges in Douglas County.

CO murder fugitive suspect James Clanton
CO murder fugitive suspect James Clanton

“We are proud to see justice finally served and this person having to answer for the crime he committed almost 40 years ago," Union County Sheriff Whitehead said. "We pray that the friends and family of the victim can now have peace knowing this murderer is captured. It was great to work with the professional men and women from Douglas County (CO) Sheriff’s Office.”

Individuals can help police solve more cold cases just like this one. All a person needs to do in take a DNA test like ancestry.com or 23andme, upload those results to GEDmatch.com and select ‘opt in’ to sharing your results with law enforcement.

Fugitive arrested in Union County nearly 40 years after alleged rape and murder of 21-year-old woman