DENVER – Colorado police arrested a man in a 30-year-old murder case Thursday, alleging he sexually assaulted, stabbed and beat a woman to death in an alley when he was 15.
Investigators said DNA testing helped lead them to James Edward Papol, 46, but did not share more details to avoid compromising the case against him. The arrested Thursday in Pueblo faces murder charges in the death of 24-year-old Mary Lynne Vialpando.
Papol was being held without bond, and it was not clear if he had an attorney to comment on his behalf.
Vialpando was last seen around 2 a.m. June 5, 1988, police said. She attended a wedding with her husband in Pueblo, but they argued after returning to their home in Colorado Springs and she ran away.
Police later spoke with witnesses who believed they saw Vialpando in a nearby bar and watched her leave through a back door. Her body was found in a nearby alley the next morning.
Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey said DNA testing of evidence played a role in the arrest but he did not specify what types of tests were performed.
District Attorney Dan May remembered being called to the alley where Vialpando was found in 1988 as a young prosecutor. May said the case’s investigators were among the first in Colorado to gather forensic evidence after a crime in hopes of testing for DNA. The technology still was relatively new in the late 1980s.
In 2017, the Colorado Springs Police Department released a composite image of a suspect, created using DNA evidence found at the scene. The composite showed a man with blond hair, blue eyes and a pale complexion.
Investigators said at the time that the technology had limitations and could not create an exact image.
The Police Department has a unit dedicated to investigating cold cases, including about 100 homicides. Carey credited that team with never giving up on decades-old cases.
“This arrest will not bring closure to the family of Mrs. Vialpando and the loved ones she left behind,” Carey said. “However, my hope is this will bring some level of peace to each of them.”
May said Vialpando’s relatives described feeling relieved but know an arrest “is just another step in the overall process.”
Vialpando’s daughter, Coral, told the Colorado Springs Gazette this summer that she was losing hope DNA could help identify her mother’s killer after 30 years. She was 4 when her mother died.
“I’ve learned to numb myself to this situation, try not to think about it so I don’t feel about it,” Coral Vialpando said. “But there’s always hope.”