A Tossed Cigarette Helped Solve A 1994 Cold Case Murder

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They say that smoking kills. For one man, it might have handed him a death sentence after his tossed cigarette butt helped police solve a cold case after a DNA breakthrough. According to Fox News, Oregon native Richard E. Knapp was finally arrested and brought to trial for a brutal murder in 1994, which had gone cold.

He was originally arrested in Vancouver during a traffic stop and booked into the Multnomah County Jail before he was extradited to the United States on charges of murder.

Knapp is charged with killing Audrey Hoellein, a 26-year-old who was also the mother of a young boy.

Vancouver Police Detective Dustin Goudschaal said that he was happy to help Audrey’s family bring her alleged killer to justice.

“I’ve been in contact with the family for a few weeks now, to keep them appraised of the situation. I can’t tell you enough how happy they are that the case is still being actively worked, that an arrest has been made.”

Audrey was raped before being murdered. At the time, law enforcement officials collected DNA evidence, but the case went cold after no match was found in the DNA database. Goudschaal also explained that as DNA evidence was still in its infancy, it was “limited” to what tests could be performed.

However, the combination of new DNA breakthroughs and the rise of genealogy websites made investigators hopeful. Using better technology, police from Paradon created a genetic data profile and submitted it to several genetic websites to see if there were any matches that shared “significant” amounts of DNA.

Featured image credit: Brian YurasitsUnsplash

After getting several matches, the police were able to narrow down their suspect list to Knapp. When he tossed out a cigarette, investigators who had been tailing the suspect secretly picked it up and had it tested. The test confirmed that Knapp was likely Audrey’s killer.

Knapp has a history of violence and has previously been convicted of sexual assault, during which he strangled the victim.

Audrey’s family, meanwhile, said that they were “grateful” for the tireless work of all investigators involved.

“This crime not only took away a sister from her two brothers, it left a mother and father without a daughter, and a young child without a mother. Since then the family has grown with nephews that will never meet their aunt, and a grandchild that can only see grandma in pictures, only knowing her from shared memories.”

Though Knapp was from the area, he did not appear to know the victim. He appeared in court on Wednesday.