DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – A man has pleaded guilty in a 40-year-old murder case in Douglas County. James Clanton pleaded guilty to killing Helene Pruszynski, 21, who left her internship at local radio station, but never returned to work the next day.

“On the evening she disappeared, came to me and asked me if she could leave 15 minutes early,” Mike Anthony said. “I was doing my last newscast on KHOW at 6 o’clock. I said if you’ll wait 15 minutes I’ll take you home. If she would have waited 15 minutes we wouldn’t be doing this interview right now.”

Anthony was the news director of KHOW at the time. He happened to be back in Denver the day the guilty plea was entered. He told CBS4 on Friday he vividly remembers the night she disappeared.

Pruszynski was found stabbed to death in a field in January 1980. Investigators used DNA technology and genealogy tests to track down Clanton in Florida, who had legally changed his name.

Helene Pruszynski (credit: Douglas County Sheriff)

“I’m thrilled,” Bob Scott said. “I don’t know what I expect in a sentence, I hope it’s the maximum.”

Scott was an employee of the radio station at the time. He was also working for the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office. Pruszynski helped him with traffic coverage at KHOW, but they only met the day she disappeared.

“Helene was just a beautiful little girl in every way,” he told CBS4 on Friday. “I had a teenage daughter at the time, she reminded me so much of my own daughter.”

(credit: Douglas County)

That night Pruszynski’s aunt called Mike Anthony, saying she never made it home. Her body was found in a vacant Douglas County field in what is now Highlands Ranch.

“I was the one that had to identify her body, so it was a very difficult time. Difficult time for everyone at the station,” said Anthony.

Scott said he was part of the team of newsroom employees that looked for her the next day. He also had access to a plane and flew over the Denver metro area searching for her.

“I drove those streets and parking lots, every place I could think of,” Scott said. “The worst assignment I ever had, walking in the field and seeing that sweet young lady.”

Investigators with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office utilized forensic genealogy and tracked Clanton, who had legally changed his name in the decades since the murder, to Lake Butler, Fla.

James Curtis Clanton (credit: Douglas County Sheriff)

“It was heartbreaking, devastating, it ate at all of us,” Scott said. “There was this pull over the newsroom, over the radio station.”

Clanton, 62, pleaded guilty to first degree murder, which carries a life sentence. However, because of the laws in place in 1980 Clanton can apply for parole after serving for 20 years. He’ll be sentenced in April.

Anthony is glad Pruszynski finally got justice, but wants to people to remember her, more than her killer.

“She was polite, kind, courteous to everyone, and just a genuinely lovely lady.”

A view shared by Scott as well, a chance to find closure on this case and remember a young journalist who had her life taken too soon.

“The one time I got to sit and talk with her, she was bright, articulate, intelligent.”

Dominic Garcia

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