Harold Carpenter arrested in cold case murder of Patricia Carnahan

The alleged killer of a woman beaten, strangled and left for dead more than 40 years ago was finally brought to justice this week, prosecutors announced.

The cold case bust from a 1979 slaying in California was clinched thanks to a rape kit from an unrelated crime decades later that led to suspect Harold Carpenter, who was recently arrested, according to a local district attorney’s office

Murder victim Patricia Carnahan was killed in Sept. 1979 at a South Lake Tahoe campground, but was not identified at the time and tragically was buried under a grave marking that simply stated “Unidentified Female,” the El Dorado District Attorney’s Office said Wednesday.

Evidence at the Tahoe crime scene was collected, including a rape kit, that provided a DNA sample, prosecutors said.

Murder victim Patricia Carnahan
Murder victim Patricia Carnahan was killed in Sept. 1979 at a South Lake Tahoe campground but was not identified at the time.
El Dorado County District Attorney/Facebook

The murder probe was revived in 2015 by the district attorney’s cold case homicide unit in which the body was exhumed and detectives put photos of the victim’s jewelry in a newspaper.

Family came forward to identify a pendant worn by Carnahan, and the remains were given to loved ones for a proper burial.

While the victim was named, the suspect was still in the wind.

Murder suspect Harold Carpenter.
Murder suspect Harold Carpenter, 63, is currently in Spoke County Jail as he awaits extradition on a murder warrant.
El Dorado County District Attorney/Facebook

Then authorities in Washington recently tested a rape kit from a 1994 case as part of an effort to clear out a backlog of rape kits and added the results to a national database, prosecutors said.

The DNA from that Washington victim matched up with DNA evidence collected from Carnahan’s death leading to Carpenter, the district attorney’s office said.

The 63-year-old was arrested and is currently in Spokane County Jail on a fugitive charge before his expected extradition to California on a murder warrant.

The victim was buried in a unidentified grave until 2015.
The victim remained buried in an unidentified grave until 2015 when her remains were sent to the family for a proper burial.
El Dorado County District Attorney/Facebook

“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 in a potter’s field under a headstone of an ‘unidentified female,’’’ El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson said in a statement. “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.”

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement the cold case arrest shows the need to test every sexual assault kit and put the DNA profiles of them into the federal database.

“Every untested kit could be a potential break in a cold case. Hard work and cross-state collaboration made this case successful,” he added. “I’m grateful for the hard work from law enforcement to pursue justice in this case.”

The Washington rape case won’t go forward because the statue of limitations ran out and the victim is now dead, officials said.