After 14-year-old Rashell Ward was kidnapped, sexually abused and shot to death on her way to her Seventh-day Adventist school in 1983, a notorious serial killer named Henry Lee Lucas claimed responsibility.
However, Lucas was as mendacious as he was violent, and investigators quickly identified inconsistencies in his testimony and concluded that his confession was one of hundreds of false claims he would make over the years.
At another point in the investigation, rumors that the sheriff was the perpetrator spread in Red Bluff, California, a small town in the Sacramento River Valley that was rocked by Rashell’s kidnapping and murder.
“Over the years of investigation, there has been no evidence to support any of these rumors,” said current Tehama County Sheriff Dave Kain. (A grand jury investigated allegations that former Sheriff Ron Koenig was part of a child porn ring but was acquitted.)
None of the other clues in the case came to fruition, and none of the suspects police had investigated over the decades were identified as Rashell’s killer.
But 40 years after the teenager’s body was discovered near the Pine Creek Bridge, there’s a now-familiar twist: Police say they know who put her there, thanks to a new investigative technique known as genetic genealogy and has completed a number of other cold case investigations.
Using DNA collected at the crime scene – a single strand of hair that was largely useless to them at the time – investigators were able to create a genetic profile of the killer. They then compared that profile with millions of other profiles collected from family tree websites like Ancestry to search for possible relatives.
This process led them to a name: Johnny Coy. And Coy’s background made them believe they were on the right track.
Coy, a Red Bluff resident, had a violent past. In 1989, he kidnapped a mother and her 21-year-old daughter at gunpoint and sexually abused the daughter. After being convicted of this crime, he was sentenced to life in prison – and that’s where he died in 2019.
Authorities managed to obtain a DNA sample from his incarceration that matched the strand of hair found on Rashell.
“The Tehama County Sheriff’s Office is pleased to offer closure to Rashell Ward’s family in this case after all these years,” Kain said at a news conference Wednesday.
“We are also pleased to clear former Sheriff Koenig’s name of any criminal involvement in this case. “The Tehama County Sheriff’s Office now considers this case solved and closed.”