Montgomery County Cold Case Killer Captured

Josie Klakström

Another crime solved using DNA and genealogy in Texas.
Laura Marie Purchase and Thomas Elvin Darnell.Montgomery County Sheriff's Office

A patrol officer had been called out to see what was going on by Interstate 45 near League Line Road, north of Houston, on the 17th of March 1983. Investigating reports of a fire, he probably wasn’t expecting to find that the burning mound was in fact a nude woman.

The woman had been sexually assaulted, strangled and set on fire, and reports note that she was ‘posed’ at the scene. The body was identified three years later by her fingerprints as Laura Marie Purchase, who had gone missing in Houston. Her killer had left behind a lot of DNA.

The same year, serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, who was convicted of murdering 11 people, initially confessed to the murder, along with 600 other crimes. He was convicted of Laura’s murder in 1986, but DNA testing in 2007 ruled him out of the crime.

In 2019, DNA and genealogy testing had advanced, and investigators could now use the DNA left at the crime scene to find Laura’s real killer.

Nearly four decades on, police were able to ascertain that Laura’s murderer was 75 year old Texan Thomas Elvin Darnell. He was arrested on the 11th of May at his home at 3300 block of No. 57th Street, Kansas and is now being held at Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Jail without bond.

According to reports, Laura had been missing for a few months before she was found near the highway in Texas. The media report issued by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office shows that multiple agencies were involved in the investigation, including the FBI.

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