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Charge Filed After 25 Years

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 once again.

"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 turned 18.

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 death row.

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 dead.

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 police report.

In between active cases, the crime lab ordered a comparison of Kemp's 1978 hair sample with the Wiltsey evidence, according to court records.

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.

"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."

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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