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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  November 21, 2021 12:00am-1:00am PST

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you and it's not always what you expected when you are a young girl. you have all your dreams of what your life is going to be. and somehow it just doesn't quite work out that way. >> that's all for this edition of dateline, i'm craig melvin, thank you for watching. watching >> and andrea canning and this is dateline. >> what i focus on when i'm working a case, what drives me the most, is the victims. i wanted to speak for them. i want to speak for helene. >> i just turned on the news, women found murdered in denver, colorado. i just grabbed my son and screamed and cried. >> was it somebody she worked with at the radio station? could it be the boyfriend that she just broke up with and december? >> you're giving the detectives names of people? >> yes. he looked at everything. i was even like, where was ted
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bundy at that time? >> we have to look under every stone, every pebble,. >> they're talking about hundreds of names. here >> hundreds, thousands. >> she is driven. >> her tenacity is just remarkable. >> i knew i was going to find him. it was a competition between him and i. >> your heart is pounding like, oh, my gosh. this israel. >> i said, i found him. i know who killed helene. >> hello and welcome to "dateline". helene pruszynski lift by a simple philosophy, smile and make the best of everything. the betting journalist had did just that as she started a college internship in radio. then helene was murdered. the investigation led detectives into the darkest corners of the criminal world, before a groundbreaking investigative tool helped bring the killer's secret to life. here's josh mankiewicz with "a promise to helene".
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>> 40 years is a long time. that's 40 winters here in colorado. and countless snowfalls. it was on a day like this that young woman disappeared. her name was helene and helene had a friend named kimberly. a friend who kept her word. you have any idea how many years you are signing up for when you made that promise? >> no. >> for those nearly four decades, kimberly kept her promise. 40 years looking at faces. 40 years meeting with detectives. 40 years retracing helene's steps. >> when i make a promise and they make a commitment i follow through. >> helene never knew it but she had another friend. you never met helene. you feel like you know her? >> i do. i feel like i know her well. as well as i possibly could. >> shannon was three years old
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when helene disappeared. it wasn't until 2019 that she accepted a challenge. >> i had to win. i wanted to win it for helene. helene pruszynski grew up as the baby daughter in a close knit family of five in hamilton, massachusetts. >> everybody that met her liked her company. >> janet was her older sister by nine years. but you didn't treat her as this annoying, younger sibling? you guys were -- >> not at all. she was my best buddy. she was a surprise, i think, through the family. and she just brought sunshine and life to our household. >> i met her my freshman year of high school. she was a sophomore. we both were part of a singing group called harmony and that's really where i got to know helene very well. >> she left to sink?
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>> yes, she loved to perform. >> i'm a vault with harmony, which is a musical group at the regional. >> helene spoke about her school life for a class meets local radio show. >> my philosophy on life? yeah, i have one. you should just, i don't know. the yourself and make the best of everything. and smile. >> smile? >> yeah, that's what i do all the time. >> there she is smiling along with kimberly in their musical group. also joining and, kimberly's older brother john. >> it was a real feeling of camaraderie, but also a dedication to excellence in our singing. >> he remembers the day camaraderie turned to something else. >> i started talking and for me it was an immediate spark. it was that kind of fluttery feeling that you have when you know you're talking to somebody that you realize you really like immediately. >> they were just in love.
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they were each other's first loves in high school, but very genuine. >> it didn't last beyond high school, but john and kimberly both kept in touch with helene after graduation. helene attended wheaton college in massachusetts where she sang into another group. there she is in the back row with the black dress on. one more thing, as much as she left her singing, helene had a another passion. journalism. what did you think what's going to happen to her? everywhere she headed? >> for great things. i saw helene the christmas of december of 1979 at church. she told me that she was going off to denver to do this internship to further interest in journalism. and she was very excited about it. >> helene arrived in january 1980 to begin that internship
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at a radio station in denver. a long way from home. fortunately, she had relatives nearby. your family didn't worry about her going off to colorado because she was it going to be alone and she was staying with your aunt and uncle. >> exactly. >> then came that day, january 16th. helene had barely been there two weeks when she grabbed the bus bus from the radio station around 6 pm to go back to her aunt and uncle's house. she'd made that commute before without a problem. that night, helene pruszynski never made it home. >> my parents called me and said they just gotten a call from my aunt and uncle and this was think a maybe 10:00 at night. >> what did you think that happened? >> we had no idea. this was so unlike helene. something had to be wrong. >> the next morning, the news, another good, made its way back to massachusetts. >> that was the first thing that came up, hamilton women
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have found murdered in denver, colorado. and then from there it was just r and chaos. i went crazy. my son was 16 months old. i just grabbed my son and screamed and cried. i just couldn't believe it was happening. not too helene. >> that moment would launch a 40-year quest for justice to find helene's killer and learned what happened on that wintry night. >> detectives, family and friends desperate for clues grasp at straws. who would want to harm helene? coming up. >> she gets off the bus and then she just disappears. >> she just disappeared. >> was it somebody that she worked without the radio station? could it be the boyfriend that she just broke up with in december? >> i thought i would be a suspect actually. >> when "dateline" continues.
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massachusetts town, her family and friends sat stunned. she'd been found murdered in a snowy field in colorado. >> she was my first love, so she had a very special place in my heart. what happened to her was so devastating. >> her week was just horribly said. i mean, no one could even speak.
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what could you say? you >> you just go through the motions and then when it's all over, then you still see, i can't believe this happened. >> murder changes everything. >> oh, it does. >> it changed the mood in rural douglas county, colorado. the high profile murder case will do that. >> as snow began to fall in the field where the young body of helene pruszynski was found -- >> back in 1980, tony spurlock was a rookie sheriff's deputy and douglas county, colorado. today, he's the sheriff. what was douglas like then? >> douglas county was a completely rural community between colorado springs and ever. >> not a lot of homicides back then? >> maybe one every four years. >> investigators determined helene was last seen alive getting off that bus after work. >> from the bus driver, we knew that she got off that bus. from there --
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>> and nobody got off with her? she didn't have any trouble on the bus? >> there was no indication from any witnesses there that she was in any distress or any one was following her. >> she gets off the bus and then she just disappears? >> she just disappeared. >> helene's was found the next day in a field at nearly nine miles from that bus stop. she'd been stabbed nine times. an autopsy revealed she was also raped. what did you learn from the body, the scene, the autopsy? >> a number of her clothes were missing. she was wearing a mid sized winter jacket for colorado at that time, and a scarf. she was lying on her back. she had no defensive wounds that she had wounds on her knees and lower lake area. which would tell us that she had either crawled on her knees at some point into that rough area. the grass, based upon the injuries. >> and she didn't have defensive wounds suggesting she was not fighting her attacker?
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she was trying to go along with him, maybe to get him to let her go? >> correct. >> some of the forensics they shared with us let some of us to believe it wasn't a stranger. that it must be somebody that she knew. >> but she didn't know anybody there, did she? >> she didn't know anybody there, but she was working at a radio station. so, was it somebody that she worked with at the radio station? could it be somebody that she turned down for a date, or a right, or something? that got angry? >> helene's friend kimberly started thinking about the men men in helene's life. the or mostly just friends, but she passed their names to investigators anyway. you're giving the detectives names of people and saying, you need to check out this guy and this guy, and this guy. >> yes. we said, could it be the boyfriend that she just broke up within december? i looked at my brother, i said, john [laughs] could it be you? >> of course, john was helene's
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ex-boyfriend. as john worked through his own grief, it occurred to him, police might come knocking. >> i thought they would. i thought i would be a suspect, actually. but they never contacted me. >> that's because investigators quickly determined it john was in massachusetts when the murder happened. back in colorado, investigators focused on what little evidence they had. different world of law enforcement back then. no surveillance cameras. no license plate readers. none of that. >> this was during the age of law enforcement where we still did not have the any. we did not have technology that would help us track where she was at. >> their old school police work they turn up something. a witness had seen a young man of medium build in his 20s or 30s. five foot nine, maybe five foot ten. he was standing by a car at the side of the road. it wasn't much.
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investigators wanted more from the witness. >> investigators but that person under hypnosis and use a sketch artists to draw a rendition of the person that she saw standing next to a car on daniels park road, which would have been 100 yards or so from where the body was found. >> that works. putting somebody under hypnosis? >> here's the thing, i've been in this business for 40 years and i heard where it worked and they've heard where it didn't work. >> the result was this sketch. was it the killer? and would it lead anywhere? >> coming up -- >> they're known as serial killers. and according to law enforcement officials, there are at least 35 of them roaming the country now. >> a chilling new possibility. >> i was even like, where was ted bundy at that time? we'll see in colorado? >> a string of notorious killers on the loose. could one of them have
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committed this crime? >> you're being questioned in connection with the crime of homicide. >> these prolific serial killers, that certainly fit. >> they certainly fit. >> when "dateline" continues. with crest pro-health. it protects the 8 areas dentists check for a healthier mouth. the #1 toothpaste brand in america. crest. it's time for the ultimate sleep number event on the sleep number 360 smart bed. what if i sleep hot? or cold? no problem, the sleep number 360 smart bed is temperature balancing so you both sleep just right. and it senses your movements and automatically adjusts to keep you both effortlessly comfortable. so, you can really promise better sleep? yes! you'll know exactly how well you slept, night after night. we take care of the science. all you have to do is sleep. don't miss our weekend special. save 50% on the new sleep number 360® limited edition smart bed. plus, 0% interest for 24 months and free premium >> in the weeks after helene delivery when you add a base. ends monday.
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pruszynski's murder in 1918, police atlas had a possible image of their suspect.
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except, it was leading them any closer to her killer. you start showing that sketch around and you put it up every place and nobody knows who that is? >> that is correct. no one came forward and said, oh, i know who that guy is. >> months went by and detectives jets hit a dead and. >> it was clear that they had exhausted all of the leads by the wintertime of 1980, going into 81. the case had gone cold. >> for a victims family, there may be no greater frustration than having a loved one's case go cold. often someone needs to play the role of the tireless advocate. even at only 26, kimberly realized that and made her promise. which was? >> i saw helene's parents and i just promised them that i would not stop for as long as i was living in doing everything in
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my power to find helene's killer. >> everything to kimberly that constantly calling detectives, generating press coverage. anything to keep a laser focus on the case. >> i didn't want to see her parents or her sister, or her brother, have to not only deal with just day-to-day living. take some of that burden off of them and for them to feel good that somebody was still actively working on it and keeping that case a life. >> and then, in 1983, the case did seem to gain new life. throughout the 70s and early 80s, a number of serial killers had been grabbing headlines. >> we looked at every serial killer. i was even like, where was ted bundy at that time? was he in colorado? so, we even looked at every known serial killer that was active at that time to see if they could possibly have been in colorado. >> and then, there were these
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two men, henry lee lucas and otis tool. they were drifters. arrested and jailed in the early 80s. and began telling law enforcement something astonishing. how they had killed more than 200 women and a dizzying spree across the country. >> crime analysts there had painstakingly reported hundreds of details of dress, mode of travel and method of killing in the lucas, tool murder cases. >> that's dennis murphy reporting on it for nbc nightly news. >> they're known as serial killers and according to law enforcement officials, there are at least 35 of them roaming the country now. >> and these two admitted killers told police about one particular victim, in colorado. >> the confessed to committing the murder of helene pruszynski. what was unique about then is that detectives often thought that there might have been another person may be in the car waiting for whoever they
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took out into the field. that was one of the theories. >> so, these two guys who worked together, these powerful prolific serial killers, that certainly fit? >> it certainly fit. >> it's pretty seductive when a couple of serial killers who are on the hook for a lot of other murders confessed to your murder, because it would close a lot of cases if you can link them to these guys. >> that's right. obviously they were like, this is awesome. we've got a confession. >> colorado investigators headed for texas to interview lucas themselves. >> you're being questioned in connection with a crime of homicide. >> the detectives showed him a map and asked him to pinpoint where he and tool picked up helene. >> we stopped her on the street and took her out of the car. and we took her all the way out to the country -- out there well, there's a bunch of rocks and stuff out there. she was stuck to death and raped and covered up with, i
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think, a sheet and some plywood. >> then lucas added a another detail. >> she was stuck to death and shot once, i think, in the head -- >> who shot her? >> i shot her in the head. >> at that moment, they had a problem. helene was stabbed, not shot. for detectives, this confession was starting to sound phony. they dug deeper, looking into lucas and tools long trail of arrest records. >> we could link them to other jurisdictions by other legal documents that could be authenticated. it would be impossible for them to be two places at one time. >> so, they were in colorado at the time helene was killed? >> they were not in colorado at the time she was killed. >> why would somebody confessed a murder they did not commit? what would be in it for them? >> they were becoming famous and they knew they were going to spend the rest of their lives in prison, if not on death row.
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>> so, why not be there as the most prolific serial killers in the country? >> exactly. >> as for any other serial killers on the prowl back then, and then could be placed in colorado at that time. ted bundy actually had spent time there in the late 70s, but he was behind bars in florida at the time of helene's murder. the serial killer leads had dried up. with that disappointing when that didn't pan out? >> that was disappointing because we knew at that point we were again back at 0.0 with nothing to work on. >> it wouldn't happen quickly, but overtime, this case would go from 0.0 to 100, with a young detective up for a challenge. >> coming up -- >> was a focus on when i'm working a case, what drives me the most is the victims. i wanted to speak for them. >> a new investigator and a
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bold new approach. >> you're talking about hundreds of names here. >> hundreds, thousands. having a competitive athlete most of my life, i think really it was a competition between him and i. i knew i was going to find him. i wanted to win four helene. >> when "dateline" continues.
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>> her murder had become the textbook example of a cold case. but in 1998 a ray of hope spring up, it came from a somewhat newer textbook, the use of dna evidence had become a good tool in criminal investigations. they realized, there was dna from their suspect in evidence. >> there was body fluids on the pieces of material or swabs for
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the autopsy that had not been tested and so we were very excited at that time because we had an abundance of dna evidence available to us. >> evidence that had been preserved even though you weren't testing for dna back then, no one was? >> no one was into this day i give the credit to the colorado bureau of investigation crime scene techs that collected that evidence, had no idea what was going to be into the future but they collected it, they properly stored it and properly packaged it to where in 1998 we could open it up and scientists would say oh, that is perfect, let's use it. >> investigators were able to put that the naked into the fbi's database of criminal profiles, known as codis. that is a huge lucky break. >> very huge. >> except, it doesn't match anybody in codis. >> doesn't match to anyone. >> esper lock in his team were disappointed and so was kimberly, but always mindful of
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the promise they had made. kimberly wasn't about to let the case freeze up again. >> i would jump on it and shake the trees and i was never met poorly, i was always met with welcomed arms by the colorado detectives. >> she was key in connecting us to different people that we felt was very important to the case. >> in 2004, kimberly was arranging a reunion concert up there singing group harmony, to celebrate helene's birthday. when she had an idea. >> i said, it is time, we need to get this solved, let's fly out on the anniversary of helene's murder and retrace her steps in realtime. >> i mean, you know the detectives have done that before, probably right after the murder and a bunch of times since, what did you think you were gonna get out of it that they hadn't done? >> create a media star in the news hoping that the killer
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would see us, we would know that there are i still on the case, make a lot of noise. >> for high school friends of a young woman murdered 26 years ago say there is still hope that their friends killer will be found. the plan worked, they made all the local news guess. >> 30 of us decided to ban together to do whatever we could to make sure that this case is reopened and solved. >> they also set up a website about the case hoping the killer might click on it and reveal his internet address. >> that was our hope was just to get the one to brawl under the rock. >> that didn't happen, the warm stayed hidden? >> he did. >> in 2009 her brother died, then her mom and dad followed in 2012. sister janet was the only one left. you've settled into this life where you don't know, >> right, it was heartbreaking. >> by june 2019, helene had
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been dead almost 40 years. the coldest of colorado cases. that's when a new detective shannon janssen was assigned to the case. >> but i focus on when i'm working a case, what drives me the most is the victims. >> jensen had been a competitive rover before she enrolled in the police academy and joined law enforcement, she got to know howling through all the pictures and information in the case filed. she was hoping to get to know someone else. >> what do you know about your unknown suspect, you know it's a man, you know he's between the ages of -- >> we don't know his age. we know that the witness said that he was in his early 20s, but ultimately nobody else saw him. >> detective jensen decided the key to all of this was the dna profiles. she decided to consult with a genealogy has, and upload the suspects profile into a website
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called -- a site used to track them relatives. >> they allow law enforcement upload kits or dna, that dna is matched with other kids who opt in who want to assist law enforcement. >> so jensen started looking for any people with genie similar to that of the suspect. this is not just a matter of putting code into a computer, it's the equivalent of old fashion shoe leather detective work, but for the 21st century. that's because a similar dna profiles just another lead that needs running down. so instead of knocking on doors, jensen was picking up the phone. >> interesting, thank you for returning michael. >> asking for cooperation from possible distant matches. you're this disembodied voice on the phone saying tell me about one of your relatives who might be a murderer, and i need you to help me and give me some
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personal information. >> yes. >> would they be willing to share their entire family history on the chance they were related to a murderer? it's a big ask. >> and i would contact these matches and they would give me their family trees and any family history that they had and so we could fill and safer adoptions or unknown pregnancies. >> you're talking about hundreds of names here. >> hundreds, thousands. the people who spoke to me all said hey, if this is somebody in my family that did this, they should be arrested for the crime. there should be justice for this young victim. >> what's that like for you knowing your sort of pursuing this, this cipher? >> haven't been a competitive athlete most of my life, really it was a competition between him and i. i knew i was gonna find him, i wanted to win for her lane. >> and by the fall of 2019, detective jensen seem to be making progress. after speaking with contacts to
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the database and building those family trees, she had found a woman whose dna was so close to that of the killer she might be a first cousin. there was just one problem. >> that first cousin didn't really know her family, the family wasn't close. >> would there be any way to fill out that possibly critical family tree? the cousin put jensen in touch with another cousin. when you talk to that woman you think this is it, we're getting close? >> yeah, i knew, this is it, i'm on the right track, i'm gonna figure out who he is real soon. >> coming up. >> she's like, i know who did it, i'm like did what's? she's like, i know who the killer is for her lane. >> the beer mug that just might seal this case. >> i was convinced, very quickly, by their determination. >> i mean the how the heart is pounding like oh my god, this is real, this is the guy. >> when dateline continues. teline continues walter, twelve o' clock.
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when you need it most. it's non habit forming and powered by the makers of nyquil. new zzzquil ultra. when you really really need to sleep. >> kimberly had spent years determined to help solve her friend elaine's murder, and she was nothing if not resolute. that said, faith tends to keep its own schedule. kimberly, with a husband and kids learned that in 2010. >> my oldest one went off to college, right the same week that my husband died, his dad and my younger one was 15 and
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fell into a deep depression. i didn't know how the price until he went off to college at northwestern university an end up taking his own life. >> it was a one two punch that would've crushed a lot of people. despite that, kimberly never lost sight of her friend elaine. >> certainly no one would blame you for saying i still want to solve elaine's murder, i still want to help to police, but that's on the backburner, now i have all of the things to deal with. >> that's when i became obsessed with dateline episodes because every tiny thing that i could pick up on on an episode i would immediately call douglas county or the colorado bureau of investigation and say did you think of this, did you look at that? >> at her desk in colorado, june shannon jensen was asking questions of her own with a computer screen in a telephone as four tools. and she had tracked down a promising lead.
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she spoke with someone whose dna profile was close enough to that of the killer, that they were likely cousins. that cousin told jensen about two men who had been estranged from her family for years. >> there were two brothers and essentially i had to look at both of them. >> and as she started digging something stood out about one of the brothers. >> outcomes a criminal history for curtis allen white. >> he was convicted of rape in the late 70s. >> he served times for right before he was parole to dulles county. >> douglass county colorado where healing key was murdered. it all fit. he was how older that? point >> 21 when he was paroled here. >> same age as helene. >> yes. >> it was time to tell the tenant then boss of the cold case unit. >> i come around the corner i see her and she says i know who did it, i said did what? she says i know who the killer
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is for helene, and i'm like no you don't. >> he knew all about the investigative dens in this case, he had seen plenty of them over the years. >> i said how do you know you do and she understood the dna, she understood the genealogy, i didn't, so she had to explain it. while then there's still a little bit of doubt, you know, do i go upstairs, don't i? so i did. >> both of them made their walk upstairs to face the sheriff. >> and they said we believe we got it, this is the guy. >> you had been on the business and of a few other this is the guy kind of conversations where it didn't pan out? >> i was. >> detective jensen laid out her case, two brothers, only one in colorado at the time of the murder, and there is another thing. as jensen dug through white criminal history, she discovered and old mugshot from 1998, remember that initial
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witness sketch drawn with the help of a hypnotist? you get the booking photo from 1988 in florida and it looks like the sketch, doesn't it? >> it looks like one of the sketches. pretty remarkably. >> those two, you could lay them over each other, it was the mustache, the hair, the eyes. it was so eerily positive. >> the sheriff was sold. >> i was convinced, very quickly, by their determination and i think also their confidence in what they had learned through this genealogy that this is the one we need to go after. >> the heart is pounding like, oh my god, this is real, this is the guy. >> they needed to find curtis white and track him to florida, where he had been living under a new name, james curtis clinton. >> he became james and went on with his life, got married, had
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a child, built a career for himself and just went on with his life as if nothing happened. >> and stay out of trouble? >> yeah, pretty much. >> douglas county detectives went to florida to watch him. >> he's living in a trailer on somebody's property. we see his van he had a white van with a shark on the side of it, we knew that was his friend, we see it, okay, we have his house. we have the van. >> when you're down there and you're surveilling this guy, the first time you see in your thinking, that's elaine's murder right there, getting into his. truck >> yes. >> they surveilled a newly minted mr. clinton as he drove to a local bar to grab a beer. then, investigators asked the bars owner to save those mugs. >> he grabbed impotent in backs for us and met us at the back door and met us at the backdoor. >> three beer mugs? >> yes. >> the detectives brought the
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mugs back to colorado. >> do you say to the dna lab, this is it, step on it? >> they knew. colorado bureau of investigations they have been working on this case since 1980. >> everyone waited until finally shannon jensen got the call. >> the lab techs said hey, it's a match. one of them had your suspects dna sample on it, and a match the semen that was left on the coat. >> what is that like? >> i don't even know if i can describe what it is like. it is extremely rewarding. >> and then, the bad news. the statute of limitation had expired on the rape, meaning clinton could admit to that with no consequence, and then, denies a murder. to make their case stronger detectives needed to get clanton to talk with them, so he and his team came up with a strategy. >> the plan was to go talk to mr. clanton and see if we can get him to come down voluntarily to talk to us and slow play into why we're really
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there. a technique we used is the social security number had been used in a large identity theft case. >> the officers wore body cameras. >> would you mind voluntarily coming down to the sheriff's office here in union county just to talk in a video recorded interview for a few minutes? >> after four decades, what would he have to say? >> coming up. >> have you ever lived on business in colorado? >> i lived in colorado many, many, many years ago. >> detectives on the hunt for answers. >> we do care about a young woman in colorado in 1980. and we want to, we want to show you a picture of her and see if you recognize her. >> would helene get justice at last? >> i lost it. i really freaked out. >> i just was paralyzed. i couldn't even breathe. >> when dateline continues. when dateline continues py place. find your breaking point.
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introducing the gift of savings sale. for a limited time, ask how to get a great deal for your business. and get up to a $500 prepaid card with select bundles when you switch to the network that can deliver gig speeds to the most businesses. or get started with internet and voice for $64.99 per month with a 2-year price guarantee. give your business the gift of savings today. >> colorado investigators are comcast business. powering possibilities. finally in the room with the men who might have killed helene pruszynski more than 40 years ago. he thought he was there to answer questions about an identity theft ring. >> have you ever lived or done business in colorado that were not aware of? >> i lived in colorado many, many, many years ago.
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>> okay, well that's helpful. when was that, approximately? >> 79, 80. >> that was important, clanton was now on tape saying that he had been in colorado when helene was killed. it was time to change the subject. >> we do care about a young woman and colorado in 1980. we want to show you a picture of her, and see if he recognized her. >> no, sir. and i think i want an attorney now. you're accusing me of something else, i know. >> clanton stopped speaking with investigators. it didn't matter, his dna spoke for itself. >> we do have a warrant for your arrest. >> for what? >> first degree murder and kidnapping? >> you've got the wrong guy. >> we actually have your dna in her and on her.
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>> later that way janet pruszynski looked down and saw a colorado number on her phone. it was sheriff tony spurlock. >> he said we want to tell you that we found the murderer and so i lost it, they were saying -- i really, really freaked out, the realization that after 40 years there would be justice served and it was just hard to comprehend. >> because it's a relief but it's also reliving? >> exactly. >> lieutenant tommy barrella began escorting clanton back to colorado, as they spoke, the detective began gaining his trust. you're building a reporter with this guy. >> kind of, yeah. i'm just a personable guy. >> their suspect had clammed up in that interview room, then, suddenly seemed to have a change of heart. he wants to talk? >> he wants to talk and they
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want to talk, my gosh, you have to let them talk. >> as they drove to the airport, tommy barrella grab his iphone and pressed record. my name is lieutenant tommy barrella and jim advised me that he'd like to talk about the crimes that he is being accused of. >> he told tommy barrella that he wasn't surprised when detectives asked them about helene. >> because i knew that was gonna come up and get me one day. >> why was it gonna come up and get you? >> i killed the girl they're accusing of killing. >> in that moment, i was like holy crap, it pinched me, he just admitted it >> he lay down the details of that cold evening, how he had seen a lane coming out of the bus and forced her into his car. >> i put my arm around her and had a knife in my hand and showed to her. >> did she say anything?
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>> she said all go. >> her lane, he said, was cooperative which explained her laugh of defensive wounds on her body. he confirmed that he raped and stabbed her multiple times, then left are in that snowy field. >> the fact that she was alive and on that bus was the only reason that he kidnapped, raped and murdered her. and >> he's gonna pay for that? >> yes. >> and clanton had one more thing to say. he claimed his life of crime could have been much worse, he said it wasn't. because something about helene had haunted him. >> you know, i got a conscience. and in my mind, i had actually took the step over to become a serial killer with helene. >> right. >> and i couldn't because of who she was and so -- i'm a serial killer of one. >> kimberly, who had made so
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many calls trying to keep the case alive, now received a call herself. >> i couldn't even breathe i wasn't jumping for joy, it wasn't crying, it was just pure shock. i just was paralyzed. >> after 40 years, the end came quickly, there was no trial, james clanton pleaded guilty to helene stop murder, many of her friends and family traveled to colorado in july 2020 to speak remotely at his sentence hearing. >> she was never forgotten, her spirit never died. >> mr. clanton i sentence you to a sentence in the department of correctional for the rest of your natural life. >> and then they had a reunion of sorts, with some of the many investigators who had worked helene's case over the here. >> it was amazing to sit across
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the table from the mall and just soak in who helene pruszynski was in their minds. >> when we last spoke, janet said she still thinks about her baby sister every day. >> you're doing okay? you have grandchildren now? >> two grandchildren, yes. one of them was born on helene 's birthday, my granddaughter. >> what do you tell them about how telling? >> we have pictures of helene in the house, she's only five so i haven't said too much yet, but she will know a lot about helene. >> you finally have justice for helene and her family, all the victims that were left behind -- >> it's why you got into police work, isn't it? >> it is. >> after a 40 year crusade for answers, it was the truth that connected to women. the detective who took on a quest, and the friend who never forgot. >> helene needed to be heard.
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she needed people to know what happened to her. so she's not alone anymore. >> that's all for this edition of dateline. i'm andrea canning, thank you for watching. for watching >> i'm craig melvin. >> and i'm natalie morales. >> and this is "dateline". >> i tell people it's the miracle of facebook. >> all it was was just one sentence. one sentence. >> it's not often that you get to be a hero. >> i got halfway through this again and went, oh my god. >> the murder happened in seconds. >> one end was coming straight for me with a gun leveled at us. i never ran so fast in my life. >> the truth took decades. i said, you know what, give me a lighted tractor tests. >> i never believed it for one

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