The families of two California girls found dead in 1973 have waited nearly 43 years for answers and justice. Authorities tell PEOPLE they got some of that this week with the “long overdue” arrest of two suspects in the double homicide.
William Lloyd Harbour and Larry Don Patterson were arrested Tuesday in Linda, California, and Oakhurst, Oklahoma, respectively, the Yuba County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.
Sheriff spokeswoman Leslie Carbah tells PEOPLE the near-simultaneous arrests were coordinated to avoid having one suspect potentially tip off the other. The men are cousins, Carbah says.
Harbour and Patterson, both 65, were 22 when they allegedly killed Valerie Janice Lane, 12, and Doris Karen Derryberry, 13, in Olivehurst, California – shooting them with shotguns at close range, Yuba County Sheriff Steven Durfor tells PEOPLE.
He declined to discuss a motive or what the suspects may have said after their arrests, citing the ongoing investigation, but Durfor says the suspects allegedly had “a level of familiarity,” at least, with the victims’ families at the time of their deaths.
Durfor says that at the time of Harbour’s arrest, he was living on the same street as some of the victims’ relatives, about a block away.
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Durfor says this case has long lingered in the community’s memory and that many investigators have tried to crack it.
He and Yuba County District Attorney Patrick McGrath informed both victims’ families of the arrests Tuesday, and they have requested privacy.
Durfor says that at the meeting with the families, “enormous emotion [came] rushing back to them but also a tremendous amount of relief. And they acknowledged that it did bring some level of closure just having suspects identified.”
“We’re asking for the family to have time to process this news,” Stan Vantassle, Doris’ nephew, told the Associated Press following the arrests. “We would like to have time to come to grips with this.”
A Horrifying Crime
Doris and Valerie, close friends, had gone shopping on Sunday, Nov. 11, 1973, and were seen multiple times around town that day, Yuba authorities said in the news release. They were last seen around 9 p.m. and were found the next day, dead, after their mothers reported them missing.
Their bodies were found by a dirt road, according to authorities, having been fatally shot by shotguns at close range. Doris had been sexually assaulted before she was killed, Carbah tells PEOPLE.
The case went cold in 1976, despite more than 60 interviews and “significant investigative efforts,” Yuba authorities said.
And then, in March 2014, a break: A Yuba sheriff’s investigator with “a little bit of down time” was reexamining the cold cases with an evidence technician, and she sent semen samples from Doris’ body, which had been preserved since her death, Carbah says.
In December 2014, the DNA evidence came back as a match for both Harbour and Patterson, reopening the case, Yuba authorities said in the news release.
According to the AP, both men had previously committed crimes severe enough to warrant their DNA collection.
Harbour has previous felony drug convictions and Patterson was previously convicted for the 1976 rape of two women, Durfor tells PEOPLE. A warrant was also out for Patterson in Texas for allegedly failing to register as a sex offender, Carbah says.
Neither man was investigated in 1973, Durfor says. Patterson was later briefly examined following his rape arrest but no charges were filed, Durfor says.
After the suspects’ match, Yuba authorities said they worked on a “renewed and expanded investigation” before presenting their evidence to the district attorney for warrants, according to the news release. Carbah says the work was kept tight-lipped even in the small Yuba department, as detectives combed through the decades-old case file and tracked down any surviving people from the original investigation.
A key part of their work was the care with which the 1973 evidence had been preserved, Durfor says – long before anyone could have imagined it would be forensically useful in the case of Doris and Valerie.
What’s Next for the Case
Harbour had never left the Olivehurst community, Darfor says, and was easily apprehended. Durfor says the delay came in tracking down Patterson – a search that spanned five states before he was found living with relatives in the Tulsa County area of Oklahoma, using a P.O. box under his own name.
Now Yuba County authorities will seek Patterson’s extradition to California, though an immediate timeline for that is unclear. Both suspects will be charged with murder.
The arrests were the culmination of the “tremendous” work of multiple agencies, Durfor tells PEOPLE, including: the Broken Arrow Police Department, Creek County Sheriff’s Office, Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Marshals.
Harbour will next appear in court Wednesday afternoon, Carbah says. He has not entered a plea and it was not immediately clear if either suspect had retained an attorney.
“I’m very proud of our department” – past and present – “that tirelessly went after this case and really took it personal,” Durfor says.
He says, “I can’t even imagine the suffering, the wondering, the grief that the families had been going through for decades.”