Patrolmen found the body of the young woman behind a Korean restaurant in Colorado Springs early on the morning on March 17, 1987.
Krashoc was last seen between midnight and 1 a.m. after a night of drinking and dancing with fellow soldiers at a club named Shuffles, about a mile north of where police found her body. The cause of death was determined to be strangulation, and police said all evidence indicated that her body had been moved and placed outside the restaurant.
For her family, Krashoc’s death has remained “an open wound.” A girl who enlisted in the Army straight out of high school as an opportunity to grow and improve her lot in life was cornered and killed with few leads to chase.
“She was beat to death,” Rhonda Lilly, Krashoc’s sister, told Army Times. "Over the last 32 years, at least once a day, these feelings would come up about what happened to her.”
Evidence was collected, witnesses were interviewed, but the investigation trailed off and the case went cold. It was periodically reopened throughout the 2000s, allowing some of the DNA evidence to be reassessed with improvements in technology.
In 2016, Army Criminal Investigation Command sought the services of a private company to predict the physical appearance and ancestry of the individual who killed Krashoc. Cutting-edge technology was used to draw up a composite sketch and the Army offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who could lead them to the man they believe killed the young soldier.
But still the case remained unsolved.
That is, until investigators checked the DNA evidence from the more than 30-year-old crime scene against samples in genealogy research databases — the same technique used to make an arrest in the “Golden State Killer” case last year.
Police traced the DNA to individuals in Wisconsin and Texas. After a visit by officers, those two people helped point law enforcement in the direction of a distant relative: 58-year-old Michael Whyte, a 19-year Army veteran who was stationed at Fort Carson and remained in the Denver area.
After trailing Whyte to a fast food restaurant, police snagged a discarded cup he had been using and obtained a sample of his DNA.
It was a match. In mid-June, local police, U.S. Marshals and Army CID executed a warrant and made the arrest in Thornton, Colorado. Whyte, who is presumed innocent until proven guilty, was transported to county jail on a no-bond warrant.
Whyte has been charged with first-degree murder after deliberation, first-degree felony murder and aggravated first-degree sexual assault, Lee Richards, the public information officer for the 4th Judicial District Attorney, confirmed.
“Normally we don’t keep service information on former soldiers, but in this case I can confirm that Michael Whyte served in the U.S. Army from October 1979 to April 1998 and attained the rank of Sgt. 1st Class,” Brandy Gill, a Fort Carson spokeswoman, told Army times.
Lilly, who lives on the East Coast, said she plans to go to Colorado for a preliminary hearing on Oct. 25, though she and the rest of the family hope the case doesn’t go to trial.
“We’re hoping he just pleas and says ‘yeah, I did it,’” she said.
“If it does go to trial, that means we, as the family, have to sit there and listen to the coroner and look at pictures," Lilly added. “I mean, I know pretty much what happened to her, but there may be more that they just didn’t tell us because that could be evidence for when they go to trial.”
Colorado Springs police are confident that they have enough evidence in addition to the DNA match, Lilly said.
As the investigation is ongoing, police couldn’t detail to Army Times what other evidence they have gathered.
“I’m so grateful they kept the DNA after all these years, because back then it wasn’t as big of a thing,” Lilly said. “The Colorado Springs police and Army CID never forgot about her.”
Private companies offering genetic testing to trace family lineages have effectively created repositories of DNA that can be checked by criminal investigators. The actual perpetrator doesn’t need to have used the service, as long as relatives of theirs have.
This process is not without controversy. Informed consent and privacy concerns come into play. Also at issue is the reality that DNA information can be misinterpreted, which is why it’s important for law enforcement to bring other evidence to trial after a suspect has been arrested.
Army Times was referred to the public defenders’ office to obtain a comment from Whyte, but that request was not met with a response.
“Words cannot convey the satisfaction we are feeling from this arrest,” Maj. Gen. David Glaser, Army CID’s commanding general, said in a statement. “I’m extremely proud of our special agents on this case led by Special Agent Jessica Veltri. They have worked tirelessly and shoulder to shoulder with the Colorado Springs Police Department and the quiet professionals from our U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory on this investigation."
“We sincerely hope that today’s announcement in some small way brings comfort to the family and friends of Spc. Darlene Krashoc," Glaser added.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq. Follow on Twitter @Kyle_Rempfer