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Police resolve 34-year-old cold case in assault and death of Kansas woman

<i>Wichita Police Department</i><br/>Krista Martin was killed in 1989 in Wichita
Wichita Police Department
Krista Martin was killed in 1989 in Wichita

By Amy Simonson, CNN

(CNN) — A man who authorities say sexually assaulted and killed a 20-year-old woman three decades ago has been identified.

The Wichita Police Department named Paul Hart, who died in a traffic collision in 1999, a suspect in the 1989 death of Krista Martin, according to a Wichita Police Department statement Monday.

“On October 2, 1989, tragedy struck when Krista Martin was discovered deceased in a residence in the 500 block of South Osage,” the statement read.

Although DNA evidence was collected at the time of the incident, testing was not available. It was, nonetheless, carefully preserved, the statement said.

Investigators were unable to identify a suspect at the time despite conducting numerous interviews. But they continued to “scrutinize the evidence,” gather leads over the years and collect DNA from “multiple individuals for comparison with the evidence from the scene, yet no match was found,” according to police.

The case detective sent evidence to the Federal Bureau of Investigation between 1990 and 1992 in hopes of identifying a suspect, but the “effort yielded no results,” and the case was left unsolved, the statement said.

Although another attempt in 2009 to identify a suspect through the DNA evidence proved unsuccessful, the police department tried again in 2020.

“In 2020, the Wichita Police Department, leveraging advanced technology, again sought the assistance of the FBI to re-evaluate the DNA evidence collected in 1989,” the statement said.

After homicide detectives and federal authorities continued with their investigation through 2021 and 2022, they collaborated with private industry genealogists to “scrutinize DNA profiles and attempt to identify a suspect.”

“Finally, in April of 2023, a possible suspect, Paul Hart, emerged,” police said.

It was discovered that Hart died in a traffic collision in Memphis, Tennessee, in March of 1999, the statement said.

So law enforcement collected DNA samples from Hart’s direct relatives and through additional testing confirmed that Hart was the suspect in the 1989 homicide of Martin.

Detective Adam VanDerMolen told CNN that while Martin’s DNA was recovered from a sexual assault kit that was collected back at the time, police were only able to determine that “she died by blunt force trauma – a blow to the side of her head.”

“There was never a murder weapon found that we know of,” he said in an interview. “We don’t know what was used. This was a long road.”

Police can’t say for sure how Hart and Martin might have met, although VanDerMolen told CNN that “Krista and Paul lived about six houses from one another at the time of the murder.”

VanDerMolen added that “through talking to Krista’s family, Paul’s family, his girlfriend at the time, and Krista’s writings, we have not been able to find a true connection between them.”

But some patterns about how Martin lived did emerge, which may point to how spent her final hours.

“What we did learn, was that Krista was a very outgoing individual that frequented local drinking establishments and befriended people she encountered,” VanDerMolen told CNN. “It was not uncommon for Krista to get rides home from people she had recently met and invited them to her apartment.”

He also said there was no forced entry at her home on the night of her death.

When Wichita police presented the facts of the case to Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett, “it was determined that charges would be filed if Mr. Hart were still alive. As he is deceased, this case is now considered cleared,” the Wichita Police Department statement said.

In a press conference Monday, Ember Moore, Krista Moore’s niece, thanked investigators and volunteers for their dedication in solving the case.

“I am glad we can finally move forward and have peace knowing that Krista’s murderer is not walking around free or amongst us,” she said. “Again, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to everyone involved in bringing justice to Krista’s case. She deserves so much more out of this life than what she ended up with.”

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