Rape Kit from 1994 Leads to Arrest in 1979 Slaying of Woman Found Near Lake Tahoe

Harold Carpenter was taken into custody in connection with the death of Patricia Carnahan, who was found beaten and strangled to death in 1979

Patricia Carnahan
Patricia Carnahan. Photo: El Dorado County District Attorney/facebook

The results from a decades-old rape kit led to the arrest of a man suspected of murdering a woman whose body was discovered at a South Lake Tahoe, Calif., campground.

Harold Carpenter was taken into custody in connection with the death of Patricia Carnahan, who was found beaten and strangled to death on Sept. 28, 1979, authorities announced Wednesday.

Carpenter, now 63, is being held without bond. He awaits extradition to California, from Spokane, Wash., where he currently lives.

It's unclear if he retained an attorney to comment on his behalf or entered a plea to the charge.

At the time of Carnahan's killing, evidence including a sexual assault kit was collected, which turned up a DNA sample.

No arrests were made, her identity remained unknown and the case went cold, according to a news release.

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In 2015, the El Dorado County Cold Case Homicide Unit reopened the investigation.

Carnahan's body was exhumed, and photos of jewelry that were found on her person were circulated in a newspaper, the release reads.

Family members identified a pendant from Carnahan, and DNA tests confirmed her identity.

However, police still did not know who killed her until the results from an unrelated 1994 backlogged rape kit from Washington recently came back, authorities said.

"The rape case was deemed 'unprovable' in 1994 and the kit remained untested until 2023," the release explains.

suspect Harold Carpenter, cold case murder Patricia Carnahan
Harold Carpenter. El Dorado County District Attorney/facebook

Once the kit was tested and uploaded to the FBI's DNA database, authorities "found that the DNA collected from the Washington victim also matched the DNA evidence collected from Patricia Carnahan, identifying the suspect in her murder as Harold Carpenter," states the release.

Authorities say the Washington rape case has since been dropped as the statute of limitations has expired and the victim is now dead, but Carnahan's murder case will move forward.

"Cases like this illustrate the need to test every sexual assault kit and get their DNA profiles loaded into the federal database," Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement.

"Every untested kit could be a potential break in a cold case. Hard work and cross-state collaboration made this case successful. I'm grateful for the hard work from law enforcement to pursue justice in this case," Ferguson said.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to rainn.org.

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