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Boone County Sheriff's Dept. closes decades-old murder case of Carol Sue Klaber

Boone County Sheriff's Department Cold Case Detective Coy Cox explains evidence in the Carol Sue Klaber case during a news conference March 8, 2023.
Nick Swartsell
Boone County Sheriff's Department Cold Case Detective Coy Cox explains evidence in the Carol Sue Klaber case during a news conference March 8, 2023.

Carol Sue Klaber took a ride on her bike in Devou Park in 1976 and never came home. Her body was found in a ditch near Walton, Ky., the next day.

Investigators worked on the case tirelessly, but never found the 16-year-old's killer. Until now.

Boone County Sheriff Detective Coy Cox says DNA evidence led them to Thomas W. Dunaway, then a 19-year-old living not far from Klaber. Cox says the resolution of the case is a huge relief for everyone involved, including Klaber's older brother.

"He had the most difficult thing to do in this case," Cox says. "He identified his sister back when it happened. So to say he had closure in this case is an understatement."

Witnesses said they saw Klaber get into a white Chevrolet or Pontiac in Devou Park on June 4, 1976. That was the last time she was seen alive. Cox says it's still unclear why she got into Dunaway's car, but the two may have known each other from grade school.

Dunaway joined the Army days after Klaber's murder, then deserted and killed another person named Ron Townsend in Northern Kentucky. He served seven and a half years for that crime.

'The answer was a mile and a half away'

The road that led authorities to Dunaway was long and convoluted. Two other likely suspects were identified by Detective Jerry Keith, who initially worked the case from 1976 forward. Cox and fellow cold case Det. Tim Adams were later able to eliminate those suspects based on the evidence available. It wasn't until detectives sent DNA evidence from Klaber's body to a private lab that specializes in genealogy research that the case opened up.

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That lab, Ortham Inc. of Houston, was able to build a genetic profile of the killer from the DNA. That profile was then used to generate potential leads. Boone County Sheriff's Department detectives were able to use that information to trace Dunaway to the murder. In addition to the DNA evidence, records showing Dunaway owned a 1973 Chevrolet Monte Carlo very similar to one described by witnesses at Devou Park, his residency in Northern Kentucky at the time, and other evidence suggested he was responsible for the murder.

The most chilling bit of evidence: Dunaway was living just a mile and a half from Klaber at the time of the murder.

"So for 46 years, we were looking all over and the answer was a mile and a half away from her residence," Cox says.

Dunaway died in 1990. Authorities exhumed his remains last week so his DNA can be potentially matched to other cases.

"The exhumation was completed so we could get the DNA and submit that to the Kentucky State Police Lab," Cox says. "Our hope is to get that into the national database so Thomas Dunaway can be held accountable for all the crimes that he committed."

Nick has reported from a nuclear waste facility in the deserts of New Mexico, the White House press pool, a canoe on the Mill Creek, and even his desk one time.