MOUNTAIN VIEW -- Police in Mountain View on Monday confirmed the recent arrest of a suspect in connection with the nearly 30-year-old cold case homicide of Laurie Houts, according to authorities.
Police issued a press release on Monday detailing the arrest of 58-year-old suspect John Kevin Woodward at John F. Kennedy Airport over the weekend. Houts was murdered by strangulation after leaving her work at Adobe Systems on Charleston Road in Mountain View on September 5, 1992.
According to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office, Houts was discovered dead in her vehicle on the 1300 block of Crittenden Lane near a garbage dump about a mile from her work. The rope used to kill her was still around her neck and her footprints were visible on the interior of the car's windshield, a sign of her struggle with Woodward. Her unrifled pocketbook was found nearby.
Woodward -- who knew Houts because he was roommates with her boyfriend -- was arrested later that same year in connection with the homicide. The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office said Woodward was openly jealous of Houts, and had developed an unrequited romantic attachment to his roommate and had no alibi for the night Houts was killed.
When the boyfriend asked Woodward if he killed her with police listening in, he asked what the investigators knew. Although Woodward's fingerprints were located on the outside of Houts' car, investigators in 1992 were never able to show he was inside the vehicle.
He was tried twice for the crime. The first trial resulted in a hung jury. A second trial roughly a year later also resulted in a hung jury. In the second trial, the trial judge noted that new evidence would need to be brought forward to re-try Woodward again.
Woodward relocated after the second trial to the Netherlands, where he currently resides. He is the President and CEO of online training company Readytech. Thanks to updates in DNA technology, police were able to connect Woodward to the rope used in the crime with additional evidence.
Beginning in late 2020, detectives started to re-examine the Houts case, re-submitting items from the investigation to the Santa Clara County Crime Lab for renewed analysis. Police said DNA samples collected from evidence at the scene came back matching Woodward's DNA. Additionally, over 80 latent fingerprints that were also collected at the time of Laurie's death were re-examined by the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Identification Unit, which resulted in even more fingerprints matching Woodward.
The new information, along with evidence that led to Woodward being charged and tried as the primary suspect during the original investigation, led the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office to issue a new warrant for Woodward's arrest for murder. Woodward was taken into custody after he landed at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City on Saturday, July 9, 2022.
"It feels good in a way to have justice. It doesn't cure the problem, it's not like if you win you get your sister back, it doesn't happen. So it's been an interesting rollercoaster of emotions," said Houts' sister Cindy.
"It's incredibly rewarding and very emotional to understand that we could have an impact like this on the family," said Mountain View Police Sgt. David Fisher.
"Laurie was a huge, huge light and personality and we'll forever have a whole in our hearts missing her," said Houts' best friend Marilyn.
"This case is the culmination of incredible determination by our detectives over the decades and with phenomenal teamwork with our agency partners here in Santa Clara County and in New York," said Mountain View Police Chief Chris Hsiung in the release. "I am honored that our agency finally gets to give hope to Laurie's family that they can see a successful prosecution carried out. It bears repeating – we do not give up on justice for victims, no matter what."
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen thanked the Mountain View Police Department, the DA Cold Case Unit, and the DA Crime Lab criminalists whose work led to the charge.
"I want Ms. Houts family and friends to know that we never gave up on her. Neither time nor distance will stop us from finding out the truth and seeking justice," Rosen said in his department's release.
Woodward is being held in New York without bail until he can be extradited back to California. He faces life in prison if convicted. Rosen also praised the cooperation and assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security. Dutch authorities coordinated with the DOJ, obtaining a warrant for the search of Woodward's home and business in the Netherlands in less than 24 hours, seizing multiple computers and USB drives.
The Houts family released the following statement about the arrest:
"Laurie Anne Houts was a beloved family member and friend to many. Although she was only 5' tall, she had a huge heart and her humor and spunk were endearing to all. The way Laurie lived and treated people was a stunning example of what was right in the world. She was a gem to so many, but her bright life was taken from us at the age of 25. We are hopeful that justice can finally be served for Laurie and incredibly appreciative of the law enforcement agencies who have never given up on her."
The Mountain View Police Department thanked the Santa Clara County District Attorney investigators, the Santa Clara County Crime Lab, the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Identification Unit, the Port Authority Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the FBI, Interpol, the California Department of Motor Vehicles Investigations and the US Postal inspection Service for their assistance in the arrest.
Laurie Houts was an avid athlete and ahead of her time as a woman in the STEM field. In tribute to her memory, her family helped establish the Laurie Houts Memorial Girls Athletics Scholarship, whose donations go to graduating female seniors who have been involved in sports all four years and plan to get a degree within a STEM discipline. People can learn more and make a donation at the Gunderson High Foundation website.
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