Police use DNA to solve murder of singer's ex-wife

Singer Bill Medley's ex-wife, Karen Klaas, died on Feb 4, 1976. For nearly 41 years, her case would remain Hermosa Beach's longest-running cold case.
Singer Bill Medley's ex-wife, Karen Klaas, died on Feb 4, 1976. For nearly 41 years, her case would remain Hermosa Beach's longest-running cold case.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • It was a case that captivated the public four decades ago because of its shocking circumstances and a celebrity connection: Who killed Karen Klaas?

On the morning of Jan 30, 1976, shortly after dropping her young son off at school, she returned to her home in Hermosa Beach, California. There, the 32-year-old mother of two was sexually assaulted and strangled with her pantyhose.

By the time police discovered her, she was unconscious. She was taken to a hospital, where she remained comatose for five days, then died on Feb 4, 1976.

For nearly 41 years, the case would remain Hermosa Beach's longest-running cold case. The brutal killing shook the oceanfront California city that, even now, sees only a handful of murders each decade.

Klaas also was the ex-wife of singer Bill Medley of the musical duo Righteous Brothers, which rose to fame in the 1960s with hits such as You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' and Unchained Melody.

Last Friday, nearly 41 years to the day after the crime was committed, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department announced it had finally been solved.

"I just kind of became numb," Medley said at a news conference on Monday, describing the recent telephone call notifying him that his former wife's killer had been identified through an emerging DNA-testing technique. As he spoke, he was surrounded by Klaas' two sons and investigators who had worked on the case, some since Day 1.

"This is something you've been hoping for or speculating about for 40 years," Medley said. "All of a sudden, they say, 'We got it.' "

Officials said they identified her killer as Kenneth Troyer, a man born in 1946 who later was identified in several sexual assaults in southern California. In early 1982, he escaped from prison in San Luis Obispo. In March that year, he was shot and killed by police in Orange County, said Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell.

At the time of his death, there were no laws requiring his DNA be entered into a database for convicted rapists, Mr McDonnell said. For that reason, even though detectives had been able to obtain a DNA profile of Klaas' murderer in the 1990s, there was never an exact match.

In 1999, detectives released new details about Klaas' suspected killer based on two witnesses who said they had seen him leaving her house, Associated Press reported then. That same year, they used DNA processing to eliminate five suspects. Still, the case languished.

At the time of her death, she had been divorced from Medley for about four years and remarried.

Officials ruled out her new husband as a suspect, according to CBS Los Angeles.

In 2011, a "familial DNA" search was conducted for the first time.

The technique had emerged in recent years as a way for investigators to search for "close-to-perfect matches" among a convict's relatives, The Washington Post reported in 2008.

The search turned up nothing. But unknown to them at the time, a man related to Troyer had committed a "qualifying crime" that would soon result in his DNA being uploaded into the federal database.

Last year, investigators ran one more DNA search and came up with a match. Based on additional evidence, detectives say they determined Troyer was the man who had killed Klaas in 1976.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2017, with the headline 'Police use DNA to solve murder of singer's ex-wife'. Print Edition | Subscribe