Published Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010 | 12:26 p.m.
Updated Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010 | 4:47 p.m.
Metro News Conference
Modern DNA technology recently led detectives to a man in Virginia who they believe is responsible for the sexual assault and murder of a Las Vegas woman in 1992, Metro Police said.
The cross-country arrest of suspect Larry Howell, 58, in Portsmouth, Va., marks the seventh cold case solved by Metro this year, police said.
The case dates back to March 9, 1992, when 52-year-old Martha Doney, a bartender in Las Vegas, was sexually assaulted and fatally stabbed at her mobile home in the 4200 block of Saguaro Way, near Desert Inn Road and Nellis Boulevard in the eastern valley.
Sgt. Jon Scott of Metro's cold case unit said Doney was drinking with friends that day at a bar called the "Tumbleweed" near Nellis Boulevard and Sahara Avenue.
Doney's roommate drove her home after noticing she was intoxicated, and Howell, who had been at the bar, offered to drive Doney's car back to the home, Scott said.
After safely getting Doney inside the house, the roommate dropped Howell back off at the bar where they had met, Scott said.
Based on DNA evidence found on the victim, Scott said Howell allegedly returned later that day to Doney's home, where he sexually assaulted and stabbed her to death.
Detectives had exhausted leads in the case by the end of 1992, Scott said.
A break in the case — one of hundreds of cold cases in Las Vegas — came in January when DNA from Howell entered into a national database system by authorities in Virginia matched DNA found on the victim's body in 1992, Scott said.
Las Vegas detectives spent the next eight months building the case with the new evidence before recently submitting a warrant for Howell's arrest, said Lt. George Castro of Metro's violent crimes section. Howell has an extensive criminal history in Washington and Nevada, including sexual offenses, police said.
Detectives flew to Virginia and arrested Howell, who had been living there since about a year after allegedly committing the murder in 1992. He reported to a probation officer in Virginia for a previous sex crime conviction in Nevada, police said, which is why authorities there entered his DNA into the system.
Metro detectives had entered the DNA found on the victim into the national database in October 2009, Scott said.
"It's great for me, but it's really great for the detectives who do the work," he said. "Without them, this wouldn't have been solved. Our lab did all the laboratory work, the DNA work."
Howell, who police classified as an avid traveler, is in custody in Portsmouth awaiting extradition to Las Vegas.
"He's one of those individuals who likes to go on trips, and he brags about it," Scott said. "So we're also going to be contacting agencies all throughout the eastern seaboard and up into Canada to notify them of his existence and methods of operation."
His arrest for this case brings closure to Doney's family, who has been notified, Scott said.
"It answers a lot of questions," he said. "They know who did it."
Of the seven cold cases solved this year, Castro said this is the fifth murder case — a feat he credited to $500,000 the department received at the beginning of the year that allows authorities to devote more hours to investigations and money toward DNA testing. The other two cold cases solved were sexual assaults, he said.
"It is very, very rare to have seven in a nine-month period like we've had," Castro said.
The case is still an open investigation and police are asking anyone who may have been a witness at the Tumbleweed bar in 1992 or anyone with information about the case to contact Crime Stoppers at (702) 385-5555 or visit www.crimestoppersofnv.com.