Detectives this week nabbed an out-of-state suspect in an 18-year-old homicide and sexual assault, Las Vegas police said Thursday.
The March 9, 1992, unsolved slaying of Martha Doney, 52, initially left investigators puzzled. But a recent break helped authorities identify Larry Howell, 58, as a suspect in the brutal knife attack on Doney.
Doney lived in a mobile-home park in the eastern Las Vegas Valley, police said. On the day of her death, Doney and her roommate went to a bar near Nellis Boulevard and Sahara Avenue.
Police said Howell, another bar patron, didn’t know Doney but volunteered to drive her car to her home because she was too drunk to drive. Her roommate took Doney home, and Howell returned to the bar after dropping off Doney’s car but police say he later went back to Doney’s mobile home.
According to published Review-Journal articles, Doney was found dead by her roommate about 9:20 p.m. She was stabbed multiple times in the back and chest.
Sgt. Jon Scott said DNA evidence is alleged to link Howell to Doney, but would give no specifics or say whether investigators found signs of forced entry at the home in the 4900 block of Saguaro Way.
Though Howell was interviewed in 1992 and had been convicted of a sex crime in 1990, police never identified him as a suspect. The break in the case came in October, when authorities in Virginia entered Howell’s DNA profile into an FBI database. Las Vegas police were notified in January that it matched DNA found on Doney’s body. Howell has an extensive criminal history in several states, including “many sexual offenses,” Scott said. Las Vegas police arrested him Tuesday in Portsmith, Va.
“It’s a little bit of DNA, a little bit of good police work,” Scott said of the break in the case.
Scott said the DNA technology that pegged Howell as a suspect was not available in 1992. Scott said Howell was convicted of a misdemeanor sex crime in Nevada in 1990, but did not specify the crime. Howell was not required to submit his DNA to Nevada authorities at that time.
According to Clark County District Court records, a Larry C. Howell pleaded guilty to a gross misdemeanor charge of indecent exposure in 1990.
Scott said solving cold cases helps brings closure to victims’ families.
“We can’t bring their loved ones back, but at least we can explain what occurred,” Scott said.
The arrest into Doney’s slaying is one of several cold cases the Metropolitan Police Department has cracked this year. Since January, police have made arrests in seven cold cases, including five homicides and two sexual assaults.
Scott and Lt. George Castro said the department’s cold case unit is solving the cases with the aid of a $500,000 grant received last year from the Department of Justice. Castro said the grant has not only aided detectives, but it has alleviated a financial strain on the department during tough economic times.
“This money has helped us significantly,” he said.
Scott said the department has hundreds of cold cases. The cold case unit consists of three full-time detectives and eight part-time detectives. Scott said the unit has 200 cases under active investigations, and that the grant should last another 18 months.
Reporter Lawrence Mower contributed to this report. Contact reporter Antonio Planas at aplanas@review journal.com or 702-383-4638.