cold case

Defense Argues Man Linked by DNA to Montclair, Burbank Cold Case Murders Isn't a Killer

Jurors heard final closing arguments Wednesday in the trial of Horace Vaultz, who prosecutors say left DNA on three women found strangled in the 1980s.

Horace Vaultz testifies in his own defense at his murder trial in Downtown LA
NBCLA

The defense attorney for a man linked by DNA evidence to the deaths of two women in Montclair and Burbank in the 1980s told jurors in closing argument Wednesday that prosecutors failed to prove his client raped and strangled the women.

"Yeah the DNA is pretty strong," said attorney Damon L. Hobdy. "But DNA doesn't cry out to you and say, 'Oh, this by the way is the person who committed this crime.'"

Hobdy argued that his client, Horace Van Vaultz, Jr., had consensual sex with the women, and theorized that someone else appeared after those encounters and committed the murders of 21-year-old Selena Keough, found dead in 1981, and 22-year-old Mary Duggan, whose body was found in 1986.

"It is reasonable to conclude that sex happened, and sometime later, these women were killed," Hobdy said.

Vaultz, 67, also faces the special circumstance allegations of committing multiple murders and committing murders during rape or sodomy.

Prosecutors presented evidence at trial that a third murder, for which Vaultz was acquitted in Ventura County in 1988 before DNA evidence was used in court, proved a pattern of violent sexual behavior toward women.

"To believe the defendant's story, you'd have to throw out all your common sense," Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman told jurors at the end of her closing argument.

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"You'd have to believe this defendant is the most unlucky person on the planet, to have three women all turn up dead with the defendant's semen inside them," Silverman said. "That the defendant, who's having sex with all these women, is just being followed around by a serial killer."

Selena Keough's body was found under bushes near an apartment building in Montclair on July 16, 1981. Her murder went unsolved for decades until a male DNA profile extracted from her body was uploaded to a law enforcement database and it matched a profile found in the June 9, 1986 murder of Mary Duggan, whose body was found in the trunk of a car in Burbank.

The DNA profile was later linked to Vaultz after searches of genealogical databases, the same technique that was used to identify, arrest, and prosecute the so-called "Golden State Killer."

A recent re-examination of evidence also showed a DNA link between Vaultz and the third connected murder in Ventura County, prosecutors said.

Janna Rowe's body was found partially clothed in a trash pile in December 1986, and police learned Vaultz had rented a motel room for her in Thousand Oaks several days earlier. A piece of custom-made jewelry she wore was found in Vaultz's mother's jewelry box.

All three women had been strangled and tied up in similar ways.

Vaultz testified in his own defense during the trial and told jurors that he couldn't remember meeting the murdered women, though he said it was possible because he had dozens or hundreds of sex partners in the 1980s.

"I'm a swinger," Vaultz told jurors repeatedly. "That's my lifestyle."

Vaultz's defense lawyer also urged jurors to ignore the testimony of Vaultz's ex-wife, who said he was violent and bragged of killing women, and another woman, who reported to the police in the 1980s that Vaultz tried to strangle her and she feared she would be raped.

"These people, with all due respect, are still living!," Hobdy said. "That's not the M-O of a serial killer."

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