Convicted molester could face death penalty in boy's slaying decades ago

Kenneth Rasmuson, 53, could face death penalty if convicted of 1981 cold case killing

A sexually violent predator twice convicted of molesting boys in California could face the death penalty if prosecutors can prove he killed a 6-year-old boy in Pomona decades ago.

Detectives say DNA from Kenneth Rasmuson, 53, connects him to the strangling death of Jeffrey Vargo, who disappeared from his Anaheim Hills neighborhood in 1981 and was found dead at a construction site in Pomona.

Rasmuson was arrested March 27 at the lakeside home he shared with his parents in Sandpoint, a resort town in the Idaho panhandle. He had been living there quietly for about five years, police and neighbors said.

Los Angeles County prosecutors have charged Rasmuson with murder and a special allegation that he committed the crime during a lewd or lascivious act on a child, which makes him eligible for the death penalty, said spokesman Greg Risling.

Prosecutors haven't said whether they'll seek the death penalty for Rasmuson, who otherwise could face life in prison without parole if convicted, Risling said.

Bob Vargo, Jeffrey’s father, said a Pomona detective, Jennifer Turpin, called a few months ago to tell them that police had a lead in the case. He said the detective later told them that DNA testing had identified Rasmuson as Jeffrey's killer. The Vargos had been asked not to say anything until he was arrested.

"The first time I slept was from Friday night to Saturday, when I was confident that this guy was in custody," Bob Vargo said a day after Rasmuson’s arrest.

"Before that my mind kept racing, thinking, 'What if he's not the one? What if they don't have enough evidence? What if, when they are watching him in Idaho, he runs off?'"

When Rasmuson first moved to Sandpoint in late 2010, Idaho state police and local law enforcement passed out pamphlets and posted fliers announcing his arrival to the community. Residents were told he was a sex offender, but neighbors say details of his crimes weren’t discussed.

“We’ve always known what he was, but we didn’t realize a lot of that other stuff,” said Joyce Hartley, 84, who lived two doors down from Rasmuson.

When Rasmuson moved in, residents protested but were told “there was nothing you can do about it,” Hartley recalled. “A lot of people tried.”

Rasmuson has a violent history, according to court records.

In 1982, he was sent to Atascadero State Hospital in Central California after being declared a mentally disordered sex offender for sodomizing and orally copulating an 11-year-old Santa Barbara boy. He was released after two years.

In 1987, Rasmuson was convicted of kidnapping and molesting a 3-year-old boy in Los Angeles. Rasmuson reportedly abandoned the boy naked in a deserted area miles from his home.

A judge described his actions as "cruel, vicious and callous as conduct can become," according to a Times account of the proceedings.

After his release from prison, Rasmuson spent time in Santa Barbara County, Oregon and Washington before settling down in Idaho in 2010.

Rasmuson was extradited to California this week and appeared in court Monday. His arraignment was delayed until April 28.

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