Cold case murder of teen babysitter finally solved after five decades

The 14-year-old was stabbed to death while the children slept nearby

Dan Gooding
Friday 10 May 2024 19:40 BST
New DNA evidence pointing to William C. Kernan Jr (circa 1977 and before his death in 2010) has help solve the cold case murder of Maria Loraine Honzell (inset)
New DNA evidence pointing to William C. Kernan Jr (circa 1977 and before his death in 2010) has help solve the cold case murder of Maria Loraine Honzell (inset) (Colorado Springs Police Department )

A teenager babysitting for her neighbour was stabbed to death nearly 50 years ago, with her killer finally found thanks to advances in DNA testing.

Police in Colorado Springs were called out to reports of a possible suicide on 7 February 1977. When they arrived at the property, they found 14-year-old Maria Loraine Honzell.

She had not taken her own life, but had been stabbed multiple times in her chest and neck while the children she was looking after were sleeping nearby.

14-year-old Maria Loraine Honzell was found stabbed to death in Colorado Springs in 1977 (Colorado Springs Police Department )

Despite a thorough investigation and a DNA sample being collected from blood on her clothes, no match was found and the case went cold.

In 2019, new DNA analysis tools were used to find a match, and her killer was located: William Charles Kernan, Jr, who had died in 2010.

“I’ve been on the phone probably once a week for the last five years, calling, and they have come through for us,” the victim’s brother David Honzell told reporters this week.

His sister was found in the master bedroom of the apartment by the neighbour who she’d been babysitting for at around 11.20pm that night in 1977.

After an autopsy, the El Paso County Coroner’s Office ruled her death as homicide from multiple stab wounds to her chest and a “prominent” stab wound to her neck.

“The Colorado Springs Police Department conducted a thorough investigation, which included numerous interviews, reports, and collection of evidence,” the department said in a press release.

“At the time, a suspect had not been identified. However, CSPD did not cease to follow leads and pursue other investigative strategies.”

Colorado Springs Police Department now believe William Charles Kernan, Jr, who died in 2010, killed the 14-year-old (Colorado Springs Police Department )

DNA testing technology has progressed in recent years, with new items of evidence submitted to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation helping to build a male DNA profile.

Despite submitting samples for various potential suspects, no match was found.

Then in 2019, CSPD approached Parabon NanoLabs to run genetic genealogy DNA analysis using blood found on Ms Honzell’s blue jumpsuit.

That team used “genetic clues” to come up with a profile that then matched William Charles Kernan, Jr’s DNA. He had died in 2010.

“Confirmation DNA was unable to be collected as the suspect was cremated and had no living biological relatives,” CSPD said. “Mr Kernan was identified as a student at a local college and an acquaintance of the woman Maria Honzell had been babysitting for on the night of her murder.”

Investigators found that Mr Kernan had been to the apartment complex a few times before.

An old photo of William Charles Kernan Jr (Colorado Springs Police Department )

The Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office then reviewed the case and, despite the lack of confirmation DNA, determined that Mr Kernan was the killer.

“The family and friends of Maria Honzell have waited over 47 years to get justice for Maria,” Colorado Spring Police Department said in a statement.

“Through years of analysis and investigation, CSPD is proud to finally provide answers to Maria’s loved ones.”

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