A Bakersfield man pleaded not guilty Thursday in the murders of two young women in the 1980s, including a Reseda resident whose body was found in the trunk of her car in a Burbank parking lot.
The case against Horace Van Vaultz Jr. marks the first criminal prosecution in Los Angeles County involving investigative genetic genealogy, in which detectives access commercial DNA databases, load DNA material from the crime, find a relative's match that can point toward a suspect and collect their DNA, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey.
Vaultz, 64, is charged with the June 9, 1986, asphyxiation of 22-year-old Mary Duggan in the San Fernando Valley and the July 16, 1981, strangulation of Selena Keough, a 20-year-old mother who was killed in San Bernardino County and dumped under bushes in Montclair.
Both women had been sexually assaulted and bound, authorities said.
The murder charges include the special-circumstance allegations of lying in wait, murder during the commission of a rape and sodomy and multiple murders. The District Attorney's Office will decide later whether to seek the death penalty against him.
Vaultz, who had been under surveillance, was arrested Nov. 14 during a traffic stop in the Inglewood area, according to Burbank police Detective Aaron Kay.
Kay said he had a criminal history that predates the advent of DNA databases and that he has remained jailed without bail since his traffic stop arrest.
The two killings were linked to a single suspect about two decades after the crimes, Lacey said.
“Those results linked a suspect to the crimes, giving law enforcement another vital piece of the evidence. Based on the match, the detectives then collected DNA from the defendant's trash,” the district attorney said.
“The DNA matched the forensic evidence found in both crimes, giving us the evidence we needed to file murder charges against the suspect.”
San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson said last month that his office agreed to allow Vaultz to be tried in Los Angeles County because the “Keough family has waited for 38 years to get justice and we don't want them to wait any longer.''
Vaultz's attorney, Damon Lamont Hobdy, described his client last month as a retired widower.
“He was enjoying his life, enjoying his family,” the defense lawyer said. “It is a devastating thing for his family, but they're handling it pretty well.”
Vaultz is due back in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom Jan. 28, when a date is scheduled to be set for a hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to allow the case against him to proceed to trial.