Watch CBS News

DA: DNA leads investigators to suspect in South Lake Tahoe cold case

Decades-old rape kit leads to arrest in South Lake Tahoe cold-case murder
Decades-old rape kit leads to arrest in South Lake Tahoe cold-case murder 00:30

SPOKANE - After over 40 years, authorities have arrested a suspect in the murder of a woman at a South Lake Tahoe campground in 1979. 

Harold W. Carpenter, 63, was arrested after investigators found a DNA match for an unrelated crime in Washington state. Carpenter is currently being held without bond in the Spokane County Jail on a fugitive charge, pending extradition to California on a murder warrant, the El Dorado County D.A.'s office said in a statement.

Patricia Carnahan
  Patricia Carnahan El Dorado County DA's Office

Patricia Carnahan was discovered strangled, beaten, and left for dead in September 1979, and despite gathering evidence, including a sexual assault kit that provided a DNA sample, no suspects were arrested in connection with her death. 

In 2015, investigators with the El Dorado County Cold Case Homicide Unit revived the case. A forensic anthropologist exhumed her body, and detectives placed photos of her jewelry in a newspaper, leading to family members identifying a pendant worn by Carnahan. After comparing and confirming the family's DNA to the victim, the body was released to them for proper burial.

Harold Carpenter    

The CODIS system, the FBI's Combined DNA Index System, recently found that the DNA collected from a Washington victim in a 1994 rape investigation also matched the DNA evidence collected from Patricia Carnahan, identifying the suspect in her murder as Harold Carpenter. 

"This is the 13th case solved after the creation of the cold case task force," said El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson. "I'm proud to say our Cold Case Unit is one of the most successful of its kind in the United States. Sadly, Ms. Carnahan was buried under a headstone of an 'unidentified female.' Because of the tireless dedication of our investigators, she was identified and returned to her family. Now due to multi-state collaboration by numerous agencies, her killer will finally be held accountable."

This is one of the oldest cold case murders in the country to be solved through a sexual assault DNA review run through CODIS, the D.A.'s office says.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.