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Conroe cold case murder cracked after 38 years, police say

Conroe cold case murder cracked after 38 years, police say
Laura Marie Purchase
Posted at 10:01 PM, May 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-21 00:02:15-04

CONROE, Texas — After exactly 38 years since a Montgomery County Sheriff's Deputy found a Houston woman's body in the woods, officials said they have their man.

Police said 75-year-old Thomas Elvin Darnell of Kansas City, Kan. has been arrested and charged with capital murder in connection with the death of Laura Marie Purchase, who was killed March 17, 1983.

Officials said a deputy found her body burning and naked in a wooded area in the 4000 block of Interstate 45 near League Line road in Conroe.

They said an autopsy later showed the woman had been sexually assaulted and strangled, and traces of male suspect's DNA were found on her body. It wasn't until over three years later FBI officials matched the victim's fingerprints to that of a missing Houston woman, police said.

Adding to the confusion, convicted Texas serial killer Henry Lee Lucas confessed to the crime in 1983 and was found guilty three years later — but his DNA did not match the evidence during testing conducted in 2008.

Police said investigators with the sheriff's office cold case squad submitted the mystery male's DNA for genealogy testing in October 2019. The genealogy report gave police an investigative tip pointing toward Darnell as a suspect.

Exactly 38 years to the day of the murder, Montgomery County investigators traveled to Kansas City, Kan. on March 17 and collected a DNA sample from Darnell, officials said. Over a month later, results came back a positive match for the unknown man linked to the murder.

Police said Darnell was arrested and taken into custody at his home on May 11. Law enforcement then extradited Darnell to Texas, and he is currently in the Montgomery County jail being held without bond for the murder charge.

The Montgomery County Sheriff's Office said it's thankful for the cooperation and assistance of Kansas law enforcement and the FBI in bringing Darnell to justice.

This is a developing story.