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After 41 Years, Police Say They've Solved The Murder Of Karen Klaas

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Exactly 41 years ago, 32-year-old Karen Klaas was found unconscious inside her ransacked Hermosa Beach home. She had been attacked by an unknown man, and would die in the hospital four days later. For years, her murder went unsolved. Today, authorities say they have solved the case using "familial DNA," according to the Daily Breeze. Police have identified the suspect in the case as Kenneth Troyer. Troyer is believed to have committed several other sexual assaults and robberies during the same time period, according to City News Service. Troyer was shot and killed by police in Orange County in 1982.

According to a March 15, 1982 article in the L.A. Times, Troyer was 36 years old when he escaped California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo, where he was serving a sentence for burglary, in January of that same year. He was shot and killed in March after police received a tip to his whereabouts. He led police on a brief chase, crashed into a tree and was shot when he made a "furtive move" upon exiting the car.

In 1963, Klaas—then Karen O'Grady—met Bill Medley at church. The two married and had one son, Darrin, in 1965. Medley would go on to achieve fame as one half of the Righteous Brothers, whose hits included "Unchained Melody" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling." Klaas and Medley divorced about five years into their marriage, as Medley had begun having an affair with a singer. He wrote that he later attempted to reconcile with Klaas, but by that time, she was dating another man whom she would later marry and refused. Still, the pair remained amicable. Medley wrote that in spite of the divorce, "Karen was my best friend." By 1976, Klaas was living in Hermosa Beach.

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Medley wrote about his unending quest to bring Klaas' killer to justice in an op-ed published in the Daily Mail in May of 2014. In it, he also described the day of the crime.

On January 30, 1976, Klaas had just dropped off her youngest son, Damien, and was stopping off home before meeting two friends for breakfast. Klaas had recently broken her leg following a failed attempt to ride Darrin's skateboard and was using crutches to get around. Medley wrote that Darrin had been with him on that day.

Hermosa Beach was (and still is) regarded as a particularly safe community. Klaas, Medley wrote, rarely locked her back door. Klaas' breakfast companions had seen her return home, but after they did not hear from her, they called her. When she failed to answer, the friends then went to Klaas' home, where they spotted her crutches strewn on the floor.

As they pushed further into the home, an unidentified man stepped out and greeted them, then left. The two women found Klaas unconscious in her bedroom, where she had been sexually assaulted and strangled. They called 9-1-1 and Klaas was rushed to a hospital, where she died four days later on February 3, 1976.

For years, Klaas' murder went unsolved, despite repeated efforts by both local law enforcement and private investigators hired by Medley to find her killer. Medley wrote:

I’ll never forget the first Mother’s Day after Karen passed. All the children in school had to write a Mother’s Day card for their moms. 
 Darrin wrote me a Father’s Day card. I can still see Darrin and his five-year-old brother Damien standing in the bathroom at my beach house, brushing their teeth getting ready for bed. These two beautiful little boys - it just broke my heart.

I was sad and incredibly angry at the same time; I wanted to find the son-of-a-bitch who killed their mom.

Police ruled out Klaas' husband as a suspect and focused on the unknown man the witnesses had seen leaving the home. He has been described as a white male in his late 20s, about 5'7" to 5'9" with brown hair and a beard, according to the Daily Breeze.

Police revisited the case in the wake of the ritual abuse scandal that surrounded McMartin Pre-School in Manhattan Beach, where Klaas' children were students. In that particular case, several staff members at various schools had been accused of abusing young children. Detectives ultimately found no link between Klaas' murder and the school, and furthermore, it was never proven that any of the allegations against faculty or staff were credible.

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Investigators were able to get a DNA profile from the crime scene using more advanced technology in the 1990s, but could not make a match. In 2009, detectives reopened the case again.

"My partner and I have been actively working that for about a year," Sheriff's Department Detective Larry Brandenburg said at the time. "We've developed some new information as far as re-interviewing people, going through the whole file."

"Familial DNA" is a somewhat controversial topic. It implies that a close relative supplied the DNA that was linked to the DNA found at the crime scene. Sheriff Jim McDonnell said at a news conference held today that they had first attempted a familiar DNA search for Klaas' killer in 2011, but did not find a match, though the family member who provided the DNA that connected them to Troyer provided the sample six years ago.

Some have argued against this method, saying that it could violate Fourth Amendment rights, isn't always accurate, and could unfairly target people of color, who have a disproportionate amount of DNA profiles within the database system.

District Attorney Jackie Lacey described the method as a "last resort." Familial DNA was also used to catch Lonnie Franklin, Jr., perhaps better known as serial killer The Grim Sleeper.