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Klamath County cold case suspect identified after four decades

Mollie Smith and Ambar Rodriguez - KTVL
Mollie Smith and Ambar Rodriguez - KTVL
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After four decades, detectives with the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office solved a double homicide cold case with the help of DNA technology and genetic genealogy.

In 1978, the remains of Cynthia Frayer and Kirk Wiseman were found after they were shot to death in a wooded area near Lake of the Woods after hitchhiking their way from Eugene to Klamath County.

“I would love to say it’s just another case, but it’s not,” said Detective Dan Towery. “I am just lucky enough to be the last one in the chair to take it across the goal line."

Towery said the case was first investigated by now-retired Sheriff Carl Burkhart, who at the time did not have access to the latest technology, but was able to preserve crucial evidence that was eventually used to find the suspect.

In 2018, articles of Cynthia's clothing were sent to a crime lab, where technicians recovered the DNA of an unknown male.

When the initial testing didn't yield any positive, pre-existing matches, the samples were then sent to Parabon. Parabon is a company that uses DNA technology and genetic genealogy, which helped law enforcement finally solve the cold case.

The chief genealogist at Parabon analyzed the samples and eventually gave Klamath County law enforcement a viable suspect name, Ray Whitson Jr. It was quickly discovered that Whitson Jr. died back in 1996.

Because the prime suspect is deceased, the case is now considered "suspended."

Towery said that the case was always on his mind, and now that it is officially suspended, he can finally give evidence to the victims’ families.

"There's a letter from Cynthia to her mom and dad a few days prior, it was never mailed, it talked about what they were doing in Washington, talked about their hopes and dreams, and never got mailed,” Towery said “I am going to give it to her mom."

Howard Wiseman, father of Kirk Wiseman, said his family always felt a dark cloud over them because of all the unanswered questions surrounding Kirk and his girlfriend's death.

"I want to congratulate the Klamath County Sheriff’s department. They went way above and beyond the call of duty in closing this case for us family members,” Wiseman said.

Wiseman said that while the family can finally be at peace knowing who killed the two teens, it will never bring them back.

Towery credited Whitson’s family for giving samples of their DNA to help solidify the findings of the case.

"What we have been able to do here is bring closure to a family, and this work has allowed that family to have some degree of peace," said Klamath County District Attorney, Eve Costello.

Costello praised the work of the detectives and said the county hopes to create a Cold Case Unit in the future.

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"I think the investigators from 1978 all the way to 2021 and now 2022 did a wonderful job, I am very proud of them, I know they are all dedicated to their work,” Sheriff Chris Kaber said.

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