Suspect arrested in 1980 murder of Wheaton College student

SE Mass

NORTON, Mass. (WPRI) — New technology and DNA-evidence have led to the arrest of a suspect in a decades-old cold case involving a murdered Wheaton College student.

Helene Pruszynski was 21 when she was raped and murdered in Colorado. At the time she was interning at radio station KHOW.

On Monday, the Douglas County Sheriff’s office announced the arrest of James Curtis Clanton, 62. Clanton faces five charges connected to Helene’s death, including murder and kidnapping. Investigators said the statute of limitations on sexual assault had expired.

Clanton was known as Curtis Allen White at the time and was 22 years old.

When reached by phone, Helene’s sister said she was advised of Clanton’s impending arrest last week.

“I was overwhelmed with emotions — I felt relief, anger, joy,” she said.

Helene was a senior at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. when she was killed. She had moved to Colorado from Massachusetts just weeks before her death.

According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s cold case files, Helene’s body was discovered in a field on January 16, 1980. It’s believed she was abducted while walking home from a bus stop — returning from her radio internship.

Johnson said the news of her sister’s death devastated her whole family.

“It just crushed our world,” she said.

At a news conference Monday, Sheriff Tony Spurlock said Helene wanted to pursue journalism and “be a part of a bigger story.”

“From all accounts…[Helene] was just a wonderful, decent, nice young lady,” he said.

Johnson was nine years her sister’s senior and told Eyewitness News not a day has gone by that she hasn’t missed her.

“I want people to know what a special person Helene was,” she said. “My sister was my best friend. She was a loving daughter, sister, aunt and friend. Helene was on track to do great things she had a bright future ahead of her.”

Wheaton College spokesperson Sandra Coleman issued a statement Monday, reading in part:

“[Helene’s] untimely death was tragic at the time and remains so forty years later. The thoughts of the entire Wheaton community are with her family, friends and classmates as they continue to grieve Helene’s loss and manage the emotions of this new information.” 

Wheaton College

Spurlock said Helene’s case went cold within a year of her death and was re-opened in 1998 before again going cold. In 2013, the department established a cold case review team. They credit Clanton’s arrest to new technology, DNA evidence and good detective work.

According to a report from the Denver Post, a court affidavit revealed investigators used genealogy websites to hone in on Clanton, eventually tailing him near his Florida home and swiping a beer mug he used at a local bar. The DNA he left behind on that mug was a match to the DNA found at the crime scene, according to the court documents.

“The detectives and everyone else that helped to make this day happen are my heroes,” Johnson said. “I looked forward to justice being served.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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