May 19, 2021
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Texas – An arrest has been made in a decades-long cold case of a Houston woman who was found dead in 1983 in Montgomery County, according to the Sheriff's Office.
On March 17, 1983, a deputy who was patrolling in the 4000 block of Interstate 45 near League Line Road investigated a fire burning in a wooded area east of his location, according to a release.
During the investigation, the deputy found the body of a woman that had been set on fire, who was later identified by fingerprint as Laura Marie Purchase, a missing person from Houston, according to a release. An autopsy revealed that Purchase was sexually assaulted and strangled. The autopsy also found traces of a man's DNA.
The self-professed serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas, originally confessed to this crime in 1983 and was convicted of this crime in 1986.
But In 2007, the Sheriff's Office Cold Case Squad resubmitted the unknown male's DNA found during the initial investigation, according to a release. Lucas, along with his alleged codefendant Otis Elwood Toole, were eliminated by DNA in 2008, according to a release.
In October 2019, investigators sent the DNA evidence for genealogy testing, which showed Thomas Elvin Darnell, a 75-year-old male from Kansas City, Kansas, as a potential suspect, according to a release. A DNA search warrant for Darnell was obtained as a result of the investigation, according to a release.
Montgomery County Cold Case Detectives went to Kansas on March 17, 38 years later to the day, and collected a known DNA sample from Darnell.
On April 30, his DNA sample was positively matched to the DNA collected from Purchase, according to a release.
An arrest warrant for capital murder was issued in Montgomery County and Darnell was arrested at his home on May 11, according to the Sheriff's Office.
On May 20, Darnell was extradited to Montgomery County and booked into the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office Jail on capital murder charges with no bond.