California man convicted in two cold 1980s rape and murder cases: ‘Sexually motivated serial killer’

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A Californian was convicted in Angels Thursday for the rape and murder of two women in the 1980s, after investigators linked him to the case using new DNA evidence tests.

Horace Van Vaultz Jr., 67, who was described by prosecutors as a “sexually motivated serial killer”, was found guilty by a jury of first-degree murder in the death of Selena Keough, 21, on July 16, 1981, and Mary Duggan, 22, on June 9, 1986, City News Service reported.

The jury of nine men and three women deliberated for three hours before finding Vaultz guilty of murder as well as allegations of special circumstances, including the rape of two women and sodomy.

Assistant District Attorney Beth Silverman told jurors that “the defendant chose these victims [and] the defendant is sitting here because he is a serial killer…a sexual predator,” the CNS reported.

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Horace Van Vaultz Jr. was convicted of first degree murder for the deaths of two women in the 1980s.

Horace Van Vaultz Jr. was convicted of first degree murder for the deaths of two women in the 1980s.
(Burbank Police Department)

Keough died of strangulation and her body was found among bushes near an apartment complex in Montclair, in San Bernardino County. Duggan died of asphyxiation and her body was found in the trunk of a car in a Burbank parking lot.

In closing arguments, Silverman argued that the “sex-motivated homicides” were “committed by the same serial killer between 1981 and 1986” and claimed that Vaultz was responsible for both because his DNA was found on or in the two victims, who were partially or fully naked at the time of their death, the CNS reported.

Silverman said “a ton of evidence” points “only to the defendant,” according to the report.

A Los Angeles Police Department vehicle

A Los Angeles Police Department vehicle
(Los Angeles Police Department)

Vaultz, a former sailor who testified on his own behalf, denied any wrongdoing.

“My sperm means I may have had sex with the person. It doesn’t mean I killed them,” he said at the trial, CNS reported.

Asked about his DNA evidence, he again repeated that he had not killed the women: “I tell you that I did not kill anyone.”

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Damon Lamont Hobdy, Vaultz’s attorney, argued the prosecution “did not prove” that his client murdered the women, CNS reported.

“If the evidence shows he’s not guilty, which he is, do your duty,” Hobdy told jurors.

The murders of the two women got cold for decades as contemporary DNA evidence was not available at the time.

The Vaultz prosecution was the first time Los Angeles County has used investigative genetic genealogy, where detectives access commercial DNA databases and use the DNA of a relative who led them to the suspect, a previously said former Los Angeles County prosecutor Jackie Lacey.

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Vaultz was initially acquitted in 1988 of the murder of 25-year-old Janna Rowe, as prosecutors said current DNA evidence was not available at the time. Although the case cannot be retried, it has been used as “standard evidence” in the current prosecution.

at Rowe’s the body was found strangled and left in a garbage pile in Ventura County in 1986.

Sabrina Plourde, Keough’s sister, told reporters she was grateful for the continued investigation and the verdict.

“I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who helped us get to this point,” Plourde said, CNS reported. “You think for so many years no one cares.”

“They care and they won’t forget and they won’t forget the family if you miss someone,” she added.

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Vaultz was arrested during a traffic stop by Burbank police in November 2019 as he was wanted in connection with the Keough and Duggan murders.

He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole and is due to appear for a sentencing hearing on September 19.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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