DNA leads to murder suspect in Kentucky teen’s 1976 cold case

Posted at 4:44 PM, March 9, 2023 and last updated 1:03 PM, June 14, 2023


BOONE COUNTY, Ky. — Nearly fifty years after her body was found brutally murdered and left in a roadside ditch, detectives in Kentucky said that they have solved the murder of Carol Sue Klaber.

Undated black and white photograph of Carol Sue Klaber.

Carol Sue Klaber, seen here in an undated photo, was found murdered on June 5, 1976. (Boone Co. Sheriff’s Office)

Klaber’s body was found on June 5, 1976, one day after she was last seen alive. The medical examiner ruled Klaber died from blunt force trauma and said that there was evidence of sexual assault and strangulation.

In the course of the investigation, detectives identified two suspects in Klaber’s murder, both of whom were later cleared.

Boone County Sheriff Michael Helmig said in a news release that DNA collected from the 1976 crime scene was tested and definitively identified a suspect in Klaber’s murder.

Scanned front page of The Kentucy Post from 1982 with the headline, "No leads: Six years later"

A page from the Kentucky Post details the search for Klaber’s killer. (Boone County Sheriff’s Office)

“We are celebrating (Klaber’s) case being solved,” Helmig said at a news conference. “We are not celebrating the individual who took her life.”

The DNA, which was recovered from the scene along with fingerprints, was sent to Orthram Inc., a private laboratory specializing in forensics. Funding for the testing was provided by Season of Justice and the Kentucky State Police Central Forensic Center.

Orthram used “Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing” to build a DNA profile of the suspect in September 2022, before its in-house genealogy team used genetic genealogy to develop investigative leads for the Boone County Sheriff’s Office. On Jan. 23, 2023, Orthram contacted the sheriff’s office to suggest it contact a family to collect reference DNA to compare against the DNA from the crime scene.

Helmig said the DNA identified Thomas W. Dunaway, originally of Park Hills, Kentucky, as the suspect in Klaber’s murder. Dunaway was 19 in 1976, and died in 1990 at age 33 after developing “an extensive and violent criminal history.”

Tom Dunaway driver's license

The Boone County Sheriff’s Office identified Tom Dunaway as a suspect in a 1976 cold case murder. (Boone County Sheriff’s Office)

Detectives determined that Dunaway enlisted with the military shortly after Klaber’s murder. Dunaway enlisted at a recruiting office on June 14, 1976, and graduated in Fort Knox on Aug. 12, 1976. He reported for duty at Ft. Carson, Colorado, on Aug. 24, 1976, but was reported AWOL on Dec. 3.

Dunaway was later convicted of murdering Ronald Townsend, 19, who was found shot several times on Dec. 17, 1976.