A former Tournament of Roses official arrested Wednesday as the suspected killer in a 2004 cold case was again a free man Friday as prosecutors found the evidence against him lacking.
Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office officials said Sheriff’s Department detectives presented insufficient evidence to charge Richard Allan Munnecke, 71, in the death of Donna Lee Kelly, who was 59 at the time of her death.
“There are other potential suspects. Insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” Deputy District Attorney Patricia Wilkinson wrote in paperwork declining to file charges.
Munnecke is still considered a person of interest in the case, according to a sheriff’s department spokeswoman.
On Friday, Pasadena real estate agent Tom Joyce, who said he knew Munnecke and Kelly through their volunteer work at the Tournament of Roses, was one of several people who expressed disbelief and relief in the twist in the case.
“It was the most totally unbelievable story I’ve ever heard in my life when they arrested him,” Joyce said. “I’m really happy to hear the charges were dropped.”
He described Kelly as a nice, “vivacious gal” who helped organize a Tournament of Roses event called Family Fest shortly before she disappeared.
Munnecke was always willing to help, Joyce said.
“He’s the guy you call when you need something done,” Joyce said. “I don’t think this will affect his reputation. Everyone I talked to said they’re behind him 100%.”
Munnecke is a former member of the Tournament of Roses board of directors and a longtime volunteer in and around Pasadena. He owned Pasadena-based air conditioning company Calar Systems before retiring.
Kelly worked as a Buick saleswoman and volunteered for the Tournament when Munnecke was on the board in the late 1990s. The two were involved romantically, according to sheriff’s investigators. Munnecke had “romantic intentions” but denied a sexual relationship with Kelly, according to Wilkinson’s report.
Kelly was last seen March 24, 2004, at her San Gabriel apartment. She was reported missing by her daughter Diane 11 days later. Then on April 15, while driving her mother’s car through Eaton Canyon County Park in Pasadena, Diane noticed “a foul odor” coming from the trunk.
She looked and discovered her mother’s body.
The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office could determine no specific cause of death, but did not rule out homicide. Sheriff’s detectives obtained a DNA sample from Munnecke eight years later — a pubic hair they linked to earlier evidence — and subsequently arrested him.
Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s office, said it’s up to the investigating agency to confer with prosecutors before making an arrest, and in this case, the Sheriff’s Department didn’t do that.
Diana Peterson-More, vice president of the Pasadena Rotary Club, described Munnecke as “mild-mannered.”
“In my mind it was an inappropriate and untimely arrest,” Peterson-More said. “I'm grateful on behalf of Allan and his family.”
“My goodness, isn’t that something,” Pasadena Rotary Club President Kenneth Hill said, when he learned prosecutors weren’t pressing charges. “Yesterday it seemed like it was shut tight. This is good news, certainly, for him and his family.”
People are quick to jump to conclusions, Hill said.
“People are going to think what they want to think,” Hill said. “As a Rotary club, we have to accept what the law says. We don’t judge people on rumor or accusations.”
A man who answered the door at Munnecke’s home Friday said Munnecke is not commenting on the investigation.
Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said the investigation is continuing. Detectives, she said, are “still going to try to get the suspect and close the case, because that's ultimately the goal.”