Kelly Ann Prosser, an 8-year-old Ohio girl her family described as “our beauty and our love,” was walking home from Indianaola Elementary School on September 20, 1982, when she disappeared; two days later, her body was discovered in a Madison County cornfield.
It has taken the Columbus Division of Police nearly 40 years to find the man they believe is her killer, but they announced on June 26 that they finally matched DNA from the crime scene to Harold Warren Jarrell, who died in 1996 at the age of 67, local TV news station WBNS-10 reported.
Ohio law enforcement now considers the case closed.
Kelly Ann Prosser’s Abduction And Murder Renewed Fears of ‘Stranger Danger’
The brown-haired, green-eyed Prosser was only 4 feet, 6 inches tall and 74 pounds when she went missing, according to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. They noted that her body was found two days after her disappearance in a cornfield along A.W. Wilson Road and they “determined that Kelly Ann had been beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled.”
According to the Dayton Daily News, Prosser’s blue raincoat was found spotted on a road before her body was found fully clothed five miles south of Plain City; police did not initially release the cause of death. However, the Akron Beacon Journal reported that the raincoat’s right sleeve was “smeared with blood.”
There seemed to be one main suspect that police focused on soon after Prosser’s body was found. The Dayton Daily News reported that detectives had tracked Prosser’s scent to an area near a 63-year-old man’s home, a man who was also being charged with “molesting an 11-year-old girl on the city’s North Side Sunday.” However, the man’s lawyer said that he had an airtight alibi and was out of town at the time when Prosser’s murder took place.
The man was later identified in the Journal Herald as Walter Mitchell. However, Mitchell was never charged with Prosser’s abduction. More details were revealed in the Akron Beacon Journal which reported that Prosser had been strangled and sexually molested. In that article, Prosser’s father reportedly said, “The big thing on my mind is that I hope Kelly didn’t suffer. I can’t imagine the terror she went through — 8 years old, grabbed off the street by some guy. I wanted to talk about this so maybe one family can be spared this pain. The community has got to know how much jeopardy their kids are in.”
An editorial in the Richwood Gazette echoed that sentiment, warning parents to teach their children to avoid strangers and walk in groups if possible: “Parents, counsel your children on the dangers of talking to strangers and accepting candy or rides from them. No one knows the potential dangers that lie ahead. Students, when walking to or from school, travel in large groups if possible. Do not accept anything from strangers who seem overly friendly.”
Police Used New Genealogy To Find A Match
Since 1982, dozens of detectives have looked at Prosser’s case, inspiring the title behind a podcast that Columbus Police started called “The Fifth Floor,” USA Today reported. In a press conference, Columbus Deputy Chief Greg Bodker said they started the podcast in May to breathe new life into Prosser’s case.
But combing through a new DNA database to test DNA left at the scene is how police say they cracked the case. Bodker said that working with two genetic genealogists from Advance DNA helped them build out a family tree and find Jarrell’s third cousin.
Jarrell, who served about five years in prison for a sex-related crime he committed against a child in 1977, was eventually linked to the crime, police said, proving that Prosser’s death had been the result of a stranger abduction. Bodker said Jarrell was not on anyone’s radar and he’s not sure how the case would have been solved without the DNA match.
Even though Jarrell is dead, the family said they were grateful for the detectives’ hard work and described the revelations as “bittersweet” in a statement which read, in part:
When Kelly Ann left for school the morning of September 20th, 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.
Our family has spent many long years waiting for Kelly Ann’s murder to be solved. But Kelly’s family is not unique. Those who have suffered the murder of their loved one knows how devastating waiting for answers can be … Today is one of those bittersweet moments that has been a long time coming. Our family is blessed to have finally gotten an answer, after nearly four decades, on who abducted, sexually assaulted, and murdered our darling Kelly Ann.
While new technology, advanced investigated techniques and other factors have been an undeniable part of solving this homicide case the real credit goes to all the local, state, federal and partnering law enforcement agencies who showed tenacity, dedication, and tremendous teamwork in solving Kelly Anns’ case. There are no words to express how deeply our gratitude extends to all of you …
Kelly Ann was our beauty and our love. She sparkled with laughter and her blooming spirit shined amidst the thorns. Her light has been — and will always be — deeply missed. Today, and forever, family and friends will remember our precious little girl.
Det. Dana Croom, who took over Prosser’s case in 2016, said he was stunned when they finally got a match, saying during the press conference, that he “couldn’t believe it when we got the match. I was numb, and I teared up a little bit.”
There are a lot of officers, present and past, that never forgot about this case, that never lost their passion and desire to solve this case. And without them building a foundation, we couldn’t have gotten to where we are today. It’s still a sad day, we can’t bring Kelly Ann Prosser back … However, the next best thing we can do is bring some closure and hopefully bring people to justice.
He also offered a promise: “I want to let the families of all these other victims know that we are pursuing those cases with the same vigor that we pursued this case.”