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Dateline: Unforgettable- Revisiting Helene Pruszynski Murder

The world still recalls the terrible death of the 21-year-old journalism intern, who was kidnapped, brutally raped, and stabbed to her last breath in Denver, Colorado, in Jan. 1980.

Revisiting Helene Pruszynski Murder

The victim, Helene Pruszynki was kidnapped at knifepoint while she was returning to her relative’s home, where she stayed for the time being. Apparently, the killer took her to an open field, exploited her sexually, and finally stabbed her to death. Her corpse was immediately discovered by the authorities the next day in a Douglas County field.

Four decades later, the Pruszynski case came to the limelight leading the officials to reach the killer, James Clanton. They used advanced forensic technology and analyzed the preserved DNA from the girl’s body which was collected back in 1980 and tracked down possible matches until their destination arrived.

However, It’s difficult to determine whether it is the efficiency of the investigation team or their failure. But at least the universe is happy that none is leaving without enjoying the taste of punishment for what they did in their lifetime. The officials extracted a detailed confession from Clanton and he was arrested in 2019 after his DNA matched perfectly to the one found on the spot. 

Clanton was convicted in 2020 of Helene Pruszynski’s cold case and was sentenced to life but with a possibility of parole. Little more than a couple of years later, Oxygen’s Dateline: Unforgettable has brought the decade-old case to the national spotlight again and it has explored the endless efforts made by the investigators to bring the murderer before the law. The episode titled “A Promise to Helene” aired last Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, on Oxygen.

Revisiting Helene Pruszynski Murder

How Did James Clanton Kill Helene Pruszynki?

James reportedly killed Pruszynki shortly after his release from prison on Jan. 16, 1980. He was previously arrested for a rape case and was sentenced to 4 years. After being released on parole, he was expected to move in with his former counselor, who offered to treat and aid him in suburban Denver. But the desperate Clanton, who had no time to recover from the past, kidnapped Helene Pruszynki that evening as he saw her walking from the bus stop seemingly to her aunt’s home. 

Claton took Pruszynki to an open field in Douglas Couty, raped her after tying her hands to the back, and later stabbed her until her death was ensured. It took no time for the authorities to find her body as they spotted it the next day and informed the concerned family and friends. Helene Pruszynki’s first-degree murder turned cold when cops failed to identify the culprit. But thanks to the team, they secured all the potential evidence from the scene until the kidnapper cum killer was trapped. 

But, it is an unsolved mystery that despite having the proper DNA sample, there was no solid lead until the cold case reopened in 2017. Investigators, however, made a breakthrough in the case using forensic genealogy, finally locating Clanton, who was residing in Lake Butler, Florida. 

Failed Attempts By The Authorities 

Right after the dead body of Pruszynki was discovered, a woman reported to the authorities, explaining she was a man wandering around the crime scene. She even described the features of the man thoroughly to the artist who created a strikingly accurate composite of a potential suspect. Since that didn’t work, the authorities tried to find a link between Pruszynki’s case and other rape cases, but once again, their attempts went in vain. 

The complexity of the case increased as Pruszynki was new to Colorado and no connection was visible at the moment. Woefully, the investigators called it quits after a year and everything went frozen for over another twenty years. 

However, the culprit’s DNA was the crucial evidence they preserved to use in the future, which was apparently not tested during the first round of investigation in 1980. Years later, they ran several tests on the specimen which revealed the killer’s genetic profile. Over and again, their efforts didn’t lead to any significant leads as no match was found.

In 2000, 2005, 2010, and 2013, the case was restored again, and the DNA results led to the discovery of eight women who seemed like a plausible link to the killer. However, no magic happened, but the determined authorities opened the case once again in 2017 in hopes of reaching the killer, which, fortunately, happened. 

How Did The Authorities Turn To James Clanton?

Revisiting Helene Pruszynski Murder

Douglas County Sheriff’s investigator Shannon Jensen began to take control of the case after receiving multiple hits testing the DNA via genealogy. She initially redlined William White Jr., a man with a history of sexual abuse but later identified his brother, Curtis Allen White, aka James Clanton, who eventually confessed to the crime.

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How was James Clanton convicted?

In Nov. 2019, the investigators succeeded in secretly collecting Clanton’s DNA from a beer mug, after keeping tabs on him for roughly 2 years and their hunch proved right when Clanton’s DNA matched the one found years ago. Subsequently, Clanton was taken into custody on Dec. 11 in Florida. He was tricked by cops who lured him for a recorded interview after using a financial fraud cover story to make him believe. During his extradition process to Colorado, Clanton confessed to whatever crimes he did to Helene Pruszynki.

James Clanton was found guilty of first-degree murder in court in Feb. 2020, and the succeeding processes were only brief. Sadly, the court couldn’t make him accountable for sexually assaulting Pruszynki due to an expired statute of limitations. 

Where is James Clanton now?

Clanton, who is 63 years old now was given a life sentence after he was ultimately found guilty of the murder charge. Per reports, he is currently kept at the Bent County Correctional Facility in Las Animas, Colorado, and would only be eligible for parole in January 2040.

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