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Arrest made in 31-year-old Whittier cold-case rape, murder

April 20, 2012 |  2:23 pm

Whittier Police Department officers arrested a house painter, Joseph Thornton, 51, in Placer County, charging him in connection with the cold-case murder and rape of Blanca Stella NegreteOn June 27, 1981, a young Whittier woman named Blanca Stella Negrete, an employee at Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital, was found raped and strangled to death in her apartment on Washington Avenue.

Whittier police detectives investigated her death, but the leads eventually ran cold and the case was put aside for others. It sat idle for three decades.

But earlier this week, Whittier Police Department officers arrested a house painter, Joseph Thornton, 51, in Placer County, charging him with Negrete's rape and murder, said Lt. Kent Miller, a department spokesman.

Thornton had also lived in Kansas and Nevada since the crime, and had an arrest on domestic-violence charges at one point, Miller said.

Officials said the arrest grew from a decision made by detectives while reviewing cold cases to submit items taken as evidence at Negrete's apartment to the Los Angeles County crime lab, which was able to extract DNA.

Last year, the lab came up with a DNA match to Thornton, Miller said, and Whittier police detectives searched for him locally, as well as in Topeka, Kan., where he’d lived for many years. They finally tracked him to his home in the Northern California city of Auburn.

Thornton was living in Southern California at the time of the crime "and was familiar with the area" in which Negrete, 21, lived, Miller said. He is scheduled to be arraigned Friday afternoon.

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 -- Sam Quinones
twitter.com/samquinones7

Photo: Joseph Thornton. Credit: Whittier Police Department

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