Discarded cigarette leads to arrest in 1994 murder

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VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — When Audrey Hoellein was brutally raped and murdered 25 years ago, investigators collected physical evidence at the crime scene in her apartment, including DNA.

Now, a quarter-century later, a discarded cigarette led Vancouver police to arrest Richard E. Knapp during a traffic stop and arrest him for murder.

Audrey Hoellein Frasier was only 26 when she was killed in July 1994. At the time, she was separated from her husband and living in an apartment in the 8000 block of E. Fourth Plain Boulevard.

Concerned neighbors called Vancouver police to check on her. When officers arrived, they discovered her body.

At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Vancouver Police Assistant Chief Mike Lester and  Detective Dustin Goudschaal shared information on the case and the arrest.

Over 25 years, the “goal has been to bring justice to the family waiting for answers,” Lester said. “At the time of her murder, physical evidence including DNA was collected, but no matching information was in CODIS, the national data base that contains DNA profiles of individuals convicted of certain crimes.”

At the time she was killed, Audrey lived at apartments known at that time as the Family Tree Apartments. 

Vancouver Police Detective Dustin Goudschaal, April 30, 2019 (KOIN)

“Detectives at that time followed up on several leads and used preliminary DNA,” Goudschaal said. “I have to mention, in 1994 DNA was still an early science.”

Detectives kept working the case over the years but it remained unsolved.

But the DNA evidence gathered that night at Hoellein’s apartment proved vital in the arrest of Knapp. That evidence ruled out earlier persons of interest, investigators said. Periodically it was re-submitted to the national database, the Combined DNA Index System, but no match was found.

In 2018, detectives sent the DNA from the crime scene to Parabon NanoLabs, who use advanced testing to create genetic data profiles. The profile from the lab was connected to a public genealogy database.

In this case, Parabon submitted a genetic data profile to a public genealogy database. Genetic matches were used to narrow down the possibilities of whose DNA was connected to the Hoellein murder.

Parabon supplied the information they gathered to the Vancouver police, who then continued the investigation. They did surveillance on him until they could gather some fresh DNA.

“We were able to obtain abandoned DNA from that person in the form of a cigarette butt,” Goudschaal said. “This was then sent to the Washington State Crime Lab to compare original DNA from the crime scene.

That sample matched the person who had long been known to investigators as “Individual A.”

Richard E. Knapp, accused in a 1994 murder in Vancouver, was arrested April 29, 2019 (Multnomah County Sheriff's Office)

Monday, Vancouver police pulled over Knapp, a 57-year-old resident of Fairview. He was arrested and booked into the Multnomah County Jail, but he’s since been extradited to Clark County.

Knapp was 32 at the time of the crime.

In 1986, Knapp was convicted of 3rd-degree rape in Washington state and was sentenced to 12 months in jail. Documents reveal he only spent 60 days behind bars and was ordered to undergo an alcohol treatment program. However he violated that agreement, went back into treatment and his sentence was completed in December 1987.

He is now charged with 1st-degree murder and is expected to make his first court appearance on Wednesday.

Watch the full press conference with Vancouver Police:

“I can’t tell you enough how happy (the Hoellein family is) that the case is still being actively worked, that an arrest has been made,” Goudschaal said. “Audrey left behind a small child when she passed away and he’s grown up without a mom, and they’ve grown up without a sister and a daughter for 25 years.”

Statement from Audrey Hoellein’s family

“This crime not only took away a sister from her two brothers, it left a mother and father without a daughter, and a young child without a mother. Since then the family has grown with nephews that will never meet their aunt, and a grandchild that can only see grandma in pictures, only knowing her from shared memories.

“We as a family are grateful for the many detectives that have worked on this case. But, we are extremely grateful for detectives Dustin Goudschaal and Neil Martin. The loss of a loved one is something very tragic for a family. When this loss was at the hands of someone else, the grief is impossible to bare. Many losses have closure at the funeral; in this case the funeral wasn’t enough. Our family was left with so many unknowns, the biggest of these being who did this awful crime. As this case is starting to unfold after almost 25 years, the wound is being re-opened, and our family is experiencing the pain all over again.  But, thanks to detectives Dustin Goudschaal and Neil Martin our family may finally have the opportunity to find closure to our biggest unknown. We hope that the use of this technology can be used to bring closure to more families across the nation”.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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