Kansas man nabbed in cold case murder of Texas woman whose body was found burning in the woods

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An arrest has been made in the cold case murder of a Texas woman who was found dead nearly four decades ago in Montgomery County, authorities said. 

The accused killer, Thomas Elvin Darnell, 75, was arrested at his home in Kansas City, Kansas, last week. He was charged with murder in the death of Laura Purchase, whose naked body was found burning in a field in 1983, according to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s office. 

On March 17, 1983, the sheriff’s office said a deputy who was patrolling along Interstate 45 investigated a fire burning in a wooded area east of his location, according to a release.

The deputy found the body of a woman who had been set on fire – later identified by fingerprints as Purchase, a missing person from Houston, according to the release. An autopsy revealed she was sexually assaulted and strangled. Traces of a man’s DNA were also found.

The self-professed serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas, originally confessed to the crime in 1983 and was convicted in 1986.

But In 2007, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Squad resubmitted the unknown man’s DNA found during the initial investigation. Lucas and his alleged co-defendant, Otis Elwood Toole, were eliminated by DNA in 2008, according to the release. 

In October 2019, investigators sent the DNA evidence for genealogy testing, and an investigative lead from the report showed Darnell as a potential suspect. A DNA search warrant for him was obtained as a result of the investigation.

The suspect, Thomas Elvin Darnell, 75, was arrested at his home in Kansas City, Kansas, on May 11.
(Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office)

Chasing that lead, Montgomery County Cold Case Detectives went to Kansas on March 17, 2021, and collected a known DNA sample from Darnell that was later positively matched to the unknown man’s DNA profile collected from Purchase, FOX 26 of Houston reported.

An arrest warrant for capital murder was issued in Montgomery County and Darnell was arrested at his home on May 11, according to the sheriff’s office.

On Thursday, Darnell was extradited to Montgomery County. He currently sits behind bars in the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Jail on capital murder charges with no bond.

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