Helene Pruszynski case: Killer gets life sentence for raping and murdering Colorado radio intern 40 years ago

James Clanton, known as Curtis Allen White during the 1980 incident, pleaded guilty in the murder of 21-year-old Pruszynski in February


                            Helene Pruszynski case: Killer gets life sentence for raping and murdering Colorado radio intern 40 years ago
James Curtis Clanton, Helene Pruszynski (Union County Sheriff's Office)

UNION COUNTY, FLORIDA: The family of Helene Pruszynski has received justice forty years after she was kidnapped and murdered. James Clanton was sentenced on Wednesday to life in prison for the 1980 murder of 21-year-old Pruszynski. Clanton pleaded guilty in February to a charged of first-degree murder after deliberation – three months after he was arrested with the help of “genetic genealogy” technology on DNA evidence found on the victim's body and clothing.

Janet Pruszynski-Johnson, Pruszynski's sister, confronted her sibling's killer face-to-face during Wednesday's hearing. "Oh how our brother and parents wished, hoped, dreamed of this day," she said in a statement in front of a Douglas County judge. "A day of reckoning, an arrest, a conviction, justice. I will try my best to speak for all of us." 

Clanton had lived in Union County for 10 years and had had no run-ins with the law in that period. (Union County Sheriff's Office)

 

Pruszynski-Johnson noted she was nine and her brother was 12 when Helene came into their lives. The brother retreated and "suffered in silence" following her death and Pruszynski-Johnson often cried herself to sleep thinking how her parents were coping with the tragedy. "She was the baby of our family," she said. "We knew she was destined for great things in the future, then our world was shattered when we received that phone call 40 years ago. It was as if someone had reached in and torn our hearts out. I cannot find the words to accurately express the pain and anguish and heartache my family experienced that day and every day since."

Pruszynski was interning at a local radio station in Denver and was a junior at Wheaton College in Massachusetts when it happened. Clanton kidnapped Pruszynski on January 16, 1980, as she was walking home from the bus stop after work. Her body was found in a field the following day. Authorities found her hands tied behind her and confirmed that she had been raped and stabbed multiple times in the back, as previously reported.

"He took our kind, loving, sweet Helene from us," Pruszynski-Johnson continued in her statement. "It couldn't be true. Our family would never be the same."

In the weeks leading up to her murder, police were investigating whether a series of sexual assaults in the area were connected to one another. However, the good preservation of evidence from the crime scene ultimately allowed the case to reopen, according to District Attorney George Brauchler. Police received an alert of a possible DNA match of an individual living in Lake Butler, Florida before Douglas County sent a team of detectives to work with Union County Sheriffs in surveillance and evidence collection.

Almost four decades after the rape and murder, authorities announced Clanton's arrest in Union County, Florida, on December 16, 2019. (Union County Sheriff's Office)

 

For the following six days, Colorado detectives followed Clanton in Florida and were able to gather three mugs from a bar where he had been drinking. It was a successful match after authorities found the same DNA on the victim's body and clothing. Clanton was known as Curtis Allen White at the time of Pruszynski's murder. It was later found he had changed his name two years after her murder.

"It gives me some peace knowing that this beast is in jail," Pruszynski-Johnson added. "But I don't think we'll ever have closure, because Helene is not here."

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