Cold Case Murder Of Kentucky Teenager Solved Almost 5 Decades Later

16-year-old Carol Sue Klaber was found in a roadside ditch on June 5, 1976. Her murder went unsolved until March 2023 when authorities announced they used genetic genealogy to finally identify her killer.

March 31, 2023
The body of 16-year-old Carol Sue Klaber, pictured here, was discovered in a roadside ditch in Walton, Kentucky on June 5, 1976. She had been sexually assaulted and murdered.

Photo by: Boone County Sheriff's Office

Boone County Sheriff's Office

Almost 50 years after the body of a Kentucky teenager was found in a ditch, authorities have finally identified who killed her.

Carol Sue Klaber was last seen as she left her parents’ home on June 4, 1976. The 16-year-old dropped off her bike and then got into a car driven by a man. The vehicle was described as a Pontiac Grand Prix or a Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

The next day, on June 5, her body was found in a roadside ditch in Walton, Kentucky. The dentist who came across the body reported it to authorities, and the Kentucky State Police immediately started their murder investigation. It was soon determined that Klaber had been sexually assaulted and then murdered. She died because of blunt force trauma, and there was also evidence of strangulation.

Klaber’s murder unfortunately became a cold case over the years. However, on March 8, 2023, the Boone County Sheriff's Office announced that they had finally determined who killed the young girl. About a week earlier they had informed Klaber’s family that they identified Thomas W. Dunaway, then 19, as the killer.

At the time of the teen girl’s murder, Dunaway lived in the same Park Hills neighborhood where Klaber’s parents lived.

It took a lot of years and hard work to solve the murder. The Boone County Sheriff's Office Cold Case Unit was established in 2017, and they took on Klaber’s murder investigation that year.

Cold case Detectives Coy Cox and Tim Adams soon realized that the suspect’s DNA was collected at the crime scene, and police had retrieved two fingerprints from the suspect. As the investigation continued, Detectives Cox and Adams developed two suspects, but they were later ruled out with forensic testing.

Thanks to forensic genetic genealogy, detectives were able to positively identify the suspect in the teen’s murder as Thomas W. Dunaway. He apparently did not change over the years, developing a violent and quite prolific criminal history before he died in 1990 when he was 33 years old. Dunaway's DNA will be entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) for comparison in other crimes.

Thomas Klaber, the victim’s brother, struggled with the fact that Dunaway was dead and therefore won’t face formal charges.

“I wish I had known in 1990. What do you say after all this time?” Mr. Klaber told The New York Times, “I had some rather un-Christian plans for him.”

Instead, Mr. Klaber has to grapple with what justice means now. He was comforted by the fact that it was Dunaway who was exhumed for his DNA to solve the case rather than his sister. He said, “There’s a little bit of justice. You’re going to disturb somebody’s remains? Dig him up.”

Carol Sue Klaber is remembered as a teenager who loved music. According to The New York Times, she loved her guitar and played the violin. CBS News reported that her family has found “closure” since the police solved her murder.

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