DNA Match Leads To Arrests in ’73 California Teen Girls’ Murder

DNA samples from the long-dormant cold case were preserved, which an investigator decided to send for testing.

2 min read

Yuba County District Attorney Patrick McGrath announces  the arrests  at a news conference on  13 September. (Photo: AP)

An investigator “with a bit of free time” decided to send for testing DNA samples from a long-dormant cold case, which led authorities to arrest a pair of men linked to the 1973 slayings of two young girls, authorities in the United States said.

Police in Oklahoma and California arrested the two 65-year-old suspects on Tuesday morning for the murders of Valerie Lane, 12, and Doris Derryberry, 13.

On 12 November 1973, the seventh-grade classmates told their mothers they were going to a shopping mall near their homes in Oliverhurst, California. But neither girl returned home again.

Two boys who were target shooting found the girl’s bodies about 20 hours later, according to news accounts at the time. Investigators said the girls had been driven to a wooded area and shot at close range.

Authorities said a large-scale investigation was immediately launched and some 60 people questioned over a three-year period. The case eventually went cold for a lack of solid leads. It was finally shelved in 1976.

In March 2014, an investigator doing a routine check through cold cases came across details of the 1973 incident. Semen samples found on Derryberry’s body and preserved for 43 years were sent to the state Department of Justice (DOJ) forensics lab. Seven months later, state DOJ experts said that the DNA in the semen matched the genetic profiles of cousins Larry Patterson and William Harbour. The duo had each committed serious enough crimes since 1973 to have their DNA samples collected and placed in law enforcement computer systems. The duo had been living in Olivehurst at the time of the killings, investigators said.

Over time, anyone that’s been assigned to our investigations unit for any length of time looks into some of the unsolved cases that we have. And this was one in particular that one of our investigators had a bit of free time and really looked very closely at this case and identified that we should send some things off and see what it might yield for us.
Steve Durfor, Yuba County Sheriff

Durfor said both suspects had served prison sentences in the past. Patterson was arrested in 1976 for raping two women and again in 2006 for failing to register as a sex offender, Durfor said. Patterson is being held in Oklahoma in that case. He was arrested over the 1973 killings on Tuesday morning, California police is now awaiting an extradition hearing to shift Patterson from Oklahoma.

Durfor added that Harbour had felony drug convictions. He was arrested after a traffic stop two hours later near his home in Olivehurst

“Olivehurst, 43 years ago, was a very small community — still small,” Yuba County District Attorney Patrick McGrath said of the town of about 14,000 people. The twin slayings four decades ago shocked the small community and the nation, he said. “Back in 1973, this simply didn’t happen,” he said. “This was a big deal. Still is, obviously.”

The girls’ killings made headlines around the nation at a time when such incidents seemed rare, McGrath said. Both men will face murder charges, he stated.

It took longer to reopen an investigation so old that several of the investigators and the pathologist who conducted the autopsy have since died, McGrath said.

(The article has been edited for length.)

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