Investigator Uses DNA Evidence, Other Clues in Cold Case
By Claire Booth, Contra Costa County (Calif.) Times
Armida Wiltsey went for a jog around the Lafayette Reservoir on Nov.
14, 1978. She never came home.
The 40-year-old mother was found, raped and strangled to death, after
worried neighbors called police to report her missing.
There were a few witness descriptions, but no real leads to assuage
the fears of a stunned community and a heartbroken family. The
incident came amid a string of brutal rapes throughout the East Bay
that police later found were unrelated.
Only this summer did DNA technology link evidence saved from under
Wiltsey's fingernails with a serial rapist who had been paroled just
before her killing. He had been on death row.
Prosecutors filed murder charges this week against Darryl Kemp, a
67-year-old Texas prison inmate, who is about to come up for parole
"I'm really relieved," Wiltsey's husband, Boyd Wiltsey, said
Thursday. "This recent happening sort of gives me a feeling of relief
and a sense of closure."
Kemp has been out of custody for only eight of the 49 years since he
The District Attorney's Office will begin extradition proceedings to
bring Kemp to Contra Costa County for trial, said deputy district
attorney Harold Jewett.
Kemp could face the death penalty for Wiltsey's killing; if convicted
and sentenced to die, it would be his second stint on California's
Kemp was convicted of murder by strangulation and several rapes in
1960 and sent to death row. His sentence was commuted to life when
the death penalty was declared unconstitutional in the mid-1970s. He
was paroled less than four months before Wiltsey was killed.
Wiltsey had gone jogging on the popular reservoir trail that Tuesday
morning. When she failed to pick up her 10-year-old son at school,
neighbors called police.
Boyd Wiltsey rushed back from a business trip. When he arrived, he
said, a deputy and his boss met him with the news that his wife was
A tracking dog had found her body about 50 feet off the trail.
Witnesses gave the authorities descriptions and circulated sketches.
But there were no arrests.
Eventually, authorities began to believe a man named Phillip Hughes
had killed Wiltsey. Hughes was convicted in the early 1980s of
killing three other women.
The last time sheriff's officials contacted Boyd Wiltsey, 15 years
ago, they told him they were "99 percent" sure Hughes was his wife's
killer but did not have enough evidence to convict him, Wiltsey said.
"I kind of lived these many years thinking that was it," he said. "I
was really shocked when I got the call (about Kemp in May)."
Two weeks after the killing, Kemp was arrested in Walnut Creek for
peeping into windows, court records show. He was interviewed
regarding Wiltsey's death, but his girlfriend gave him an alibi, and
he went free because the state did not revoke his parole.
Sheriff's deputies did take hair samples, however.
Those strands sat in storage for more than 20 years, along with
evidence collected from Armida Wiltsey's body.
In 2000, the sheriff's crime lab notified homicide detectives that
they now had the equipment to test evidence from the Wiltsey case.
The next year, the lab ruled out Hughes as a source of the male DNA
found underneath Armida Wiltsey's fingernails, court records show.
So sheriff's detective Roxane Gruenheid sat down with the case file.
She came upon the 1978 interview with Kemp and did a little research.
He was convicted in Los Angeles County in 1960 for the rape and
murder of Marjorie Hipperson, who was strangled with a silk stocking
June 10, 1957, court documents show.
Kemp was arrested two years later for another rape. Police then
matched his hand print to a partial palm print found at the scene of
Hipperson's killing, according to L.A. Police Department reports.
Those were the cases that put him on death row.
"Based (on) excerpts from the 1950s criminal cases, I felt there was
a consistent pattern or modus operandi," Gruenheid wrote in a recent
In between active cases, the crime lab ordered a comparison of Kemp's
1978 hair sample with the Wiltsey evidence, according to court
It matched, but the hair had degraded over the years. So lab
officials asked for a new blood sample.
A judge issued a warrant and blood was taken from Kemp at the Texas
prison where he is serving a life sentence for an aggravated rape
committed in 1983.
Kemp also is suspected in several other sexual assaults in Texas,
court documents show.
He becomes eligible for parole Nov. 7, prison spokesman Mike Viesca said.
He will remain in custody even if paroled, however, because a Contra
Costa judge issued a new no-bail warrant for him, court records show.
In a statement released Thursday evening, sheriff's officials said
the evidence from Wiltsey's fingernails was compared with the state's
DNA database, which linked it to Kemp. The statement does not mention
the hair sample.
Sheriff's officials refused to comment for this story.
Included with the charges filed Wednesday are the "special
circumstances" of killing during the commission of a rape and Kemp's
previous California conviction for murder. These allegations make him
eligible for the death penalty.
Wiltsey was killed a week after voters approved a ballot initiative
reinstating the death penalty. That makes Kemp eligible for the death
penalty, Jewett said. He said his office will decide later whether to
seek the death penalty.
Boyd Wiltsey hopes prosecutors do.
"He's nothing but an animal," he said of Kemp. "Society would be much
better off without him around."
Detectives came to see him and his son, Jeff, in May, to see if they
recognized a photo of Kemp. They did not.
But the visit opened old wounds, he said.
"She was a very quiet, wonderful woman," he said of his wife. "She
was the living image of what you would consider a good person."
Two years after her death, Boyd and Jeff Wiltsey moved to Oregon.
Boyd Wiltsey has remarried, and Jeff is married with three children.
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"To tell you the truth, if I hadn't had Jeff, I don't really think
I'd be around today," Wiltsey said. "I think I would have taken some
drastic steps at that time."