DNA Solves Crime 30+ Years Later

Police say DNA provided confirmation that a serial felon killed an elderly widow from Ithaca, New York in 1977.

From the start, Ithaca Police believed that violent felon David K. Grimes had murdered an elderly widow from Ithaca 34 years ago.

But it wasn't until Grimes's DNA was matched to DNA on the woman's bed that police were sure Grimes had killed 75-year-old Ruth Van Houten on Sept. 16, 1977, Ithaca Police Chief Edward Vallely said this morning.

Van Houten was smothered to death that morning, during the third burglary at her house in five weeks, according to Post-Standard archives.

But Grimes will not be prosecuted for Van Houten's murder because the victim's family doesn't want to relive the horror of her death at a trial, said Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson.

Grimes, 64, is currently serving a term of up to life in state prison for burglarizing and attacking other elderly women. He won't be eligible for parole from the Clinton Correctional Facility until 2040, when he is 93.

"The Van Houten family did not wish to relive the events of this tragic and horrific death in a criminal trial when the suspect is already serving a life sentence," Vallely said.

The victim's family did not attend a 10 a.m. news conference to announce the conclusion of the case. But her grandson, Ray Langlois Jr. said Sunday that the announcement brought closure for his family.

Wilkinson said she's satisfied the police pinpointed the right man and understands the family's decision not to prosecute. Grimes will remain the only suspect in the case, she said. There is no statute of limitations on murder, meaning prosecutors can file charges against Grimes later if he is eligible for early parole.

The case would be considered by his parole board, if he were to become eligible, the district attorney said.

Lt. Chris Townsend, who headed the investigation, said he sent samples from the crime scene back for DNA testing around the beginning of 2009. He didn't notify the family until a preliminary match came back positive for Grimes earlier this year, he said. Then, he got a search warrant to get a fresh sample of DNA from Grimes in prison. About four months ago, that test came back positive.

Since then, police and prosecutors have been consulting with the family about how to proceed with the case. Grimes refused to talk to Townsend when police visited him in prison.

Based on records when the homicide occurred, Grimes was always a prime suspect.

Officers spotted Grimes, a one-time Ithaca resident, in the neighborhood an hour after the homicide.

Grimes had already served prison time for two burglaries. While awaiting prosecution for the second burglary, he was charged with entering the homes of three elderly women and beating one of them so badly she spent three weeks in the hospital, according to archives. He was paroled in February 1977.

He was suspected in a half-dozen other burglaries at the time of Van Houten's death later that year, Townsend said. But officers had no proof.

In the next two decades, Grimes's record continued to grow.

In 1978, he beat an elderly couple in their Ithaca home and was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison. He was paroled in 1988, according to archives.

Then, in 1991, he pleaded guilty to two first-degree burglary charges, two second-degree assault charges and a count each of first-degree robbery and first-degree attempted robbery.

He admitted beating and sexually assaulting two elderly women in Ithaca. As part of his plea, he also admitted attacking two other elderly women in their apartment two years before, and stealing from a fifth woman.

A psychiatrist who examined Grimes concluded that he "has an anti-social personality disorder" and enjoys sadistic and destructive behavior. The chances of him being rehabilitated were so remote as to be non-existent, the psychiatrist concluded.

—Written by Douglass Dowty, The Post-Standard
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