BUENA VISTA, Colo. (CBS4)– Nearly 40 years after a 17-year-old was brutally murdered, cold case investigators have identified her killer.

On July 28, 1977, Audrey Marie Elizabeth Hurtado was reported missing to police after she disappeared while visiting her sister in Buena Vista. Hurtado lived in Trinidad at the time.

She told her sister she was going for a walk with a young white male and never returned. Two days later her body was discovered in a field south of the Cottonwood Creek Cabins at 351 Waters Avenue in Buena Vista.

Audrey Marie Elizabeth Hurtado (credit: Buena Vista Police)

Audrey Marie Elizabeth Hurtado (credit: Buena Vista Police)

Hurtado had been stabbed to death.

“The day Audrey Hurtado’s body was found on July 28, 1977… every member of the Buena Vista Police Department, all four of us,  were committed to doing everything possible to investigate this case to the best of our ability,” said former Buena Vista Police Chief Chuck Campton.

After an investigation into more than 80 suspects, one suspect identified as C.K., a 15-year-old male from California, became the prime suspect. Police have not identified the suspect further because he was juvenile at the time of the murder.

Audrey Marie Elizabeth Hurtado (credit: CBS)

Audrey Marie Elizabeth Hurtado (credit: CBS)

C.K. was visiting family in Buena Vista at the time, about one block away from where Hurtado was staying with her sister.

During the course of the investigation, detectives learned that C.K. had stolen a knife from a local gift and sports store a week prior to the murder. The knife was consistent with the type used to murder Hurtado. C.K’s family discovered the knife and made him return it prior to the homicide. It was later learned that a similar knife had been stolen once again from the store the day of the murder.

The location where Hurtado's body was found (credit: CBS)

The location where Hurtado’s body was found (credit: CBS)

Detectives questioned C.K. in Hurtado’s death but there was not sufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges against him. In 1981, C.K. was killed in a motorcycle accident in California.

That’s when the case went cold and remained unsolved.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation Cold Case Unit took on the case in May 2009. CBI agents said that during the course of the initial investigation, the Buena Vista police chief collected biological samples from the victim and packaged them in a way that was exemplary, especially for 1977 protocols. DNA testing as it is known today did not exist at the time.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Over the years the evidence in Hurtado’s unsolved murder was preserved in hopes that advances in technology might yield new results. The samples, taken from under Hurtado’s fingernails in 1977, were resubmitted to the CBI Forensic Lab for additional testing along with DNA samples from known relatives of C.K.

The two samples were compared and the results indicated there was a match identifying C.K. as the murderer. The case was presented to the district attorney and cleared as solved.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“May she finally rest in peace,” said Hurtado’s brother.

“Finally, I would like to apologize to the Hurtado family for not being able to close this case for 39 years,” said Campton.

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