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Prosecutors use genealogy search to make arrest in 1986 killing of Mary Duggan

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey announces at a news conference Friday that 64-year-old Horace Van Vaultz, Jr. was charged in the slaying of two women in 1981 and 1986.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County prosecutors filed two counts of murder against a man linked to a pair of decades-old cold cases by connecting the suspect through a genealogy match, a first for the office, Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said Friday.

Horace Van Vaultz Jr., 64, was charged with the 1986 killing of Mary Duggan in Burbank and the 1981 slaying of Selena Keough in Montclair, and will appear in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom Monday. The victims, killed five years apart, were both strangled and sexually assaulted, according to investigators, who are seeking to match Van Vaultz to additional killings based on the similarities in the two crimes.

“Thanks to advances in technology and forensics, we are now able to virtually reach back in time and find those responsible for these vicious crimes,” Lacey said.

Van Vaultz was arrested Thursday, and it was not immediately clear if he had an attorney. Lacey declined to detail the specific method used to capture him, citing the ongoing investigation, but likened the process to the one that cracked open the Golden State Killer case last year.

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Horace Van Vaultz, Jr.
Horace Van Vaultz, Jr. was charged today in the murders of two women in 1981 and 1986 in Montclair and Burbank.
(L.A. County District Attorney’s office)

Lacey said prosecutors ran DNA collected from the initial crime scenes in Burbank and Montclair against a “commercial DNA database” to narrow the pool of possible suspects. Burbank Police Det. Aaron Kaye said investigators became aware of Van Vaultz‘s possible involvement sometime in September, and Lacey said the 64-year-old’s DNA was matched to the killings through an item plucked from his trash last month.

Van Vaultz has traveled “all over Southern California” since the 1980s, according to Kaye, who said the defendant’s permanent residence is in Burbank but that he “also has a connection to Texas.”

Prosecutors have contacted several other policing agencies to “determine if the defendant is responsible for other unsolved murders in California,” according to a statement issued by the district attorney’s office.

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Both Duggan and Keough’s families asked not to be disturbed. Sgt. Derek Green, public information officer for the Burbank Police Department, said Duggan’s family described her as the “life of the party” who often frequented venues in the Southern California local music scene.

Investigators declined to say if Van Vaultz knew either of his alleged victims, or why he chose to target them. In both cases, the victims were bound and sexually assaulted. Keough’s strangled body was found under bushes in Montclair. Duggan died of asphyxia after a tissue was stuffed down her throat, prosecutors said. Her body was left bound in the trunk of a car in a Burbank parking lot, prosecutors said.

“Murderers should not get a free pass because their DNA is not in a criminal database,” Lacey said.

Queally writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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