Nearly 38 years after Kelly Ann Prosser was abducted while walking home from Columbus’ Indianola Elementary School and killed, her family finally knows what happened.
Prosser, 8, was abducted on Sept. 20, 1982. Her body was found in a field south of Plain City two days later. She had been beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled.
On Friday, Columbus police announced that a DNA match was confirmed with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation earlier this week, identifying the person who killed Prosser as Harold Warren Jarrell, known by most as Warren Jarrell.
Jarrell died in Las Vegas in 1996 at the age of 67. He would have been 53 at the time of Prosser’s abduction. There is no forensic evidence tying him to any other crimes in Columbus, police said.
Kelly Ann’s case had remained active for more than three decades, with Columbus police cold case homicide detectives continuing to search for answers for her family.
In late winter 2019 and early spring 2020, detectives began working with Advance DNA, a genealogy company, to try to use DNA from the crime scene in 1982 to develop a familial match. Similar techniques have been used by law enforcement in other cold cases across the country, including high-profile cases like the Golden State Killer case in California.
“We’ve had the (DNA) profile, we just didn’t have a name to go with it,” said Deputy Chief Greg Bodker.
A family tree was developed by Detective Dana Croom and Sgt. Terry McConnell, who both work in the cold case unit. They then followed up on leads with possible family members. The initial family match was with a third cousin.
“I don’t know that his name would’ve come up without the DNA,” Bodker said. “(Jarrell) was not on our radar at all as someone who committed this murder.”
“His DNA profile has been in CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) since it started,” he said. “If there was any other evidence in other crimes, it would’ve generated a hit.”
Jarrell had been convicted in 1977 of a sex crime involving a child in Columbus and served about five years in prison, Bodker said.
Croom, who took over the case fully in 2016, said at news press conference that he “couldn’t believe it when we got the match. I was numb, and I teared up a little bit.”
He said he has a personal connection with the family and thought of his own kids as he worked the case.
“I don’t know if I could be as strong as Linda (Kelly’s mom) was,” he said.
The mother would send letters and notes to every detective with photos of Kelly.
In a statement, Kelly’s family said:
“When Kelly Ann left for school the morning of Sept. 20, 1982, we did not expect our time with her would abruptly end or that our future would change in every way imaginable. One moment we had this dazzling, mischievous 8-year-old little girl. Then suddenly all we had left were memories, photographs that will never age, a calendar marking a dreadful new ‘holiday,’ a grave and pieces of Kelly’s life stored in a box.
“… Today is one of those bittersweet moments that has been a long time coming. Thank you [Columbus police] for never giving up, thank you for never forgetting about this innocent child and thank you for never forgetting that you were working for Kelly Ann. Today, you have given us the most incredible gift. And this gives us hope that other homicide cold cases will be solved.”
Prosser’s family had no known connection to Jarrell, Bodker said.
“This appears to be a true stranger abduction,” he said.
Throughout the long investigation, Bodker said Jarrell had never been a serious suspect or person of interest. At the time of Prosser’s murder, one detective was curious as to whether Jarrell could have been involved, but there was no evidence at the time, he said.
An anonymous Crime Stoppers tip from 2014 also mentioned Jarrell, but it used a variation and spelling of his name that did not lead detectives to him.
Bodker said Jarrell’s family has been cooperative with investigators.
In late 2019, detectives also sought to use a podcast, “The 5th Floor,” named after the area in police headquarters where cold case homicide detectives work. Prosser’s case was selected as the first to be examined through the podcast.
“This little girl’s name came up with everyone I talked to, whether it be a scientist at the crime lab, an administrator, detectives,” Bodker said. “They all say it’s the one they really wanted to solve before they retired.”