Spokane law enforcement used fingerprints and DNA evidence to decipher a 40-year-old murder in a South Hill cold case

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Fingerprint and DNA evidence led authorities last month to arrest the suspected killer of Archie Rutherford, who was killed 40 years ago at his South Hill home, court documents show.

Spokane Police Department Detectives and Los Angeles Police Department Officers arrested Tracy S. Pruitt, 62, on October 27 in Los AngelesWhere he lives.

Police have made no arrests in the four decades since Rutherford’s death. But in October 2020, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office Forensic Unit told Spokane police they had a match to a fingerprint recovered from Rutherford’s car, which was stolen and discovered at the downtown Spokane hours after Rutherford was found dead.

Police took fingerprints from the Honda stolen in 1982, but the prints did not identify anyone at the time.

Earlier this year, the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab determined that Rutherford’s kitchen blood submitted to the lab in April belonged to an unknown man, according to court records. The DNA from the blood was then entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), the database of known DNA profiles maintained by the FBI. The DNA profile matched Pruitt.

Rutherford’s wife, Eleanor Rutherford, discovered her dead husband in a bedroom of their home at 1207 E. 27th Ave. on Spokane’s South Hill, in the late afternoon of May 25, 1982.

She had just returned from a weekend in the Seattle area.

She told police she expected her husband to meet her at the airport, but he never arrived. A friend picked her up and took her home. She noticed that her green 1979 Honda was missing, newspapers were stacked outside the front door, and a towel lay outside the unlocked door.

An officer found the stolen Honda about eight hours after reporting finding her husband dead.

Police found Archie Rutherford dead on a bed and the attack “clearly began and ended” in the bedroom.

Blood covered her head and neck, and it was also found on bedding and walls. A detective noticed cuts on the back of Archie’s left fingers and forearm, which could have been defensive wounds, according to documents.

A portable television rested against his face with the cord wrapped around his neck. Pieces of a shattered glass decanter, which police say was shattered over Rutherford, were visible near his head and back.

Police found a piece of cast iron pan under her body and another piece on the bedroom floor. Eleanor Rutherford discovered a cast iron pan on the stove that was damaged and missing part of the side wall. She also noticed blood and hair on the pan, which a detective collected as evidence.

Eleanor Rutherford, who died in 1996, told police she also noticed bloody knives on the dining room tables.

An autopsy determined that Archie Rutherford died from multiple stab wounds, including severing the larynx and jugular. He also suffered a fractured skull and a cerebral hemorrhage, documents show.

Rutherford was likely knocked unconscious by a blow to the head before being stabbed multiple times in the left side of the head and neck, Spokane County Coroner Lois Shanks told The Spokesman at the time. Review. She said he was probably asleep when the attack started.

Police said in documents that a bloody knife with a bent blade recovered from the kitchen was most likely the weapon used to stab Rutherford. They said they believed the broken cast iron frying pan caused the blunt force trauma to Rutherford’s head.

During a tour of the house with police, Eleanor Rutherford noted stolen items including the Honda, house and car keys, her husband’s wallet, which included credit cards and a color TV 19 inches.

She told police that other items were out of place in the house. She said steak knives were found on the dining room table rather than in a kitchen drawer; the glass liquor decanter strewn in pieces around her husband’s body usually stood in the hallway; cigarette butts and ashes were flushed down the toilet; and her jewelry boxes were searched in her bedroom.

Police have written in documents that the stolen items demonstrate the theft was a potential motive for the murder. They said the amount of “excessive violence” used indicated a level of rage more common in domestic violence situations. However, police believe Archie Rutherford did not know Pruitt.

A resident and manager of Myrtle Apartments, which adjoin the lot where the Honda was found, told police they first noticed the car between 6:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. on May 25. Police determined that Rutherford brought the Honda in for repairs in May. 24 in Pontiac City, the current home of Findlay Lexus of Spokane, on West Third Avenue. The car was picked up before noon the same day.

A friend of Rutherford’s told police he had breakfast with him at The Shack restaurant, about three blocks west of Pontiac City, while the Honda was being serviced. The friend saw Rutherford again around 9:05 p.m. at Rutherford’s work, The Trade Winds Motel. The address is now the Baymont by Wyndham Spokane at the corner of Third Avenue and Lincoln Street on Interstate 90.

Rutherford’s last sighting may have been made by a Spokane police officer who believed he saw him driving the car around 11:30 p.m. on May 24 near the Myrtle Apartments.

Pruitt’s name first appeared in the murder investigation on June 26, 1982, about a month after the murder, according to documents. According to documents, his name was written on a few checks that were said to be payment for Rutherford’s credit cards.

On September 29, 1982, a man involved in the credit card transaction learned that the credit cards he had purchased were involved in a homicide and became concerned that he was linked to the murder.

A few months earlier, on July 8, 1982, a woman told Spokane police in High Bridge Park that Pruitt, who was an acquaintance of hers, was driving her 1972 Ford Galaxy when she got out of the vehicle to go to the bathroom. . Pruitt and the car were gone when she returned, she told police. The vehicle was found later that month abandoned in Grinnell, Iowa.

Pruitt was arrested later that year in Ohio on suspicion of multiple counts of rape, robbery, kidnapping and assault that apparently stemmed from an incident on July 31, 1982, documents show. The victims appeared to have been two women who did not know Pruitt.

Pruitt pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated robbery and three counts of rape.

He was sentenced soon after to up to 50 years in prison, according to documents. Spokane police said in their statement Wednesday that Pruitt had spent 27 years in prison.

Court documents say a court determined that Pruitt was a “sexual predator.”

Pruitt remains in California custody pending extradition, police said.

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