DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — It was an arrest that made headlines across the country. After nearly 40 years, police had found Helene Pruzynski's killer.
Pruzynski was a 21-year-old intern at a Denver radio station when her body was found in a Douglas County field on Jan. 17, 1980.
Her slaying was unsolved for nearly four decades until investigators used DNA to identify the man who eventually admitted to Pruszynski's murder: James Curtis Clanton.
"We saw in 15 minutes the just resolution of a case that was more than 40 years in the making," 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler told 9NEWS in February, after Clanton pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.
Now a podcast is looking back at Pruzynski's slaying and the four-decade-long investigation that culminated in Clanton's plea. "True Crime Chronicles," a podcast by VAULT Studios, recently released an episode on the hunt for Pruzynski's killer.
Pruzynski was majoring in journalism at Wheaton College in Massachusetts when she decided to take a winter internship at KHOW in Denver. She moved in with her aunt and uncle in Englewood.
On Jan. 15, 1980, Pruzynski took the bus from Englewood to the radio station and worked a full day. When she didn't return home that evening, her aunt started to worry and called police. Authorities searched for the young college student throughout the night.
The next morning, a body was found in a field in Douglas County.
“Authorities went and found this young woman's body in this field and they almost immediately identified it as that of Helene Pruszynski," said 9NEWS investigative reporter Kevin Vaughan, who covered the investigation into Pruszynski's murder. "Her body was found several hundred feet from a road out in this field. She was laid out on the ground. She was partially naked, her hands were bound behind her back. Her pants had been taken off.”
Police moved quickly to cordon off the area and collect evidence.
"They did collect a lot of evidence. They collected her clothing. They collected some plaster casts of footprints in the area. They suspected that the killer was wearing cowboy boots based on some of the footprints,” Vaughan said.
While investigators were able to build a physical and psychological profile for the suspect, it would take them nearly forty years to make an arrest.
Clanton was arrested on Dec. 11, 2019 after Douglas County sheriff’s investigators surreptitiously collected a beer mug from a bar he had visited and had it tested for DNA. It matched DNA found at the crime scene.
“This is a young girl who was just starting her life who came to Colorado to have an opportunity to make a difference,” Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said on Dec. 16 when he announced Clanton’s arrest. “She wanted to be in journalism. She wanted to be a part of a bigger story. She was involved in her choir at home, and from all accounts, was a wonderful, decent, nice young lady.”
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Investigations from 9Wants to Know