Fourteen years after the crime, a Palmdale man has been charged with murder in the rape and drowning of a fellow Navy message courier in Norfolk, Va., authorities said Thursday.
Richard Hugh Whittle, 38, a Palmdale resident who worked various odd jobs at a clinical laboratory in Burbank, appeared in court Thursday charged with the March 25, 1982, murder of Pamela Ann Kimbrue of Bay City, Mich.
The 21-year-old woman's body was found in her car at the bottom of Willoughby Bay on the Norfolk Naval Air Station 14 years ago.
A federal prosecutor in Virginia said investigators using "newly developed technologies" broke the case, but did not elaborate.
The case was reviewed last year, and naval investigators obtained statements from Whittle's acquaintances incriminating him. Several witnesses told investigators that Whittle had lied in the original investigation when he denied he knew the victim, according to court documents. Whittle told at least one former colleague that he was the "last person to see her alive," according to the documents.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Brian Robbins scheduled a hearing at federal court in Los Angeles on Tuesday to determine whether Whittle, who was arrested at his job Wednesday afternoon, would be sent to Virginia to stand trial.
"It's a terrible crime," said Assistant U.S. Atty. George B. Newhouse Jr. "Both Whittle and the decedent were youthful sailors."
Whittle was a suspect early in the case. But the case was made by a special squad formed in January 1995 by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to investigate unsolved homicides using modern forensic technologies along with other techniques, officials said.
"The arrest culminated a lengthy investigation which had been unsuccessful until newly developed technologies were applied by the NCIS cold case squad," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Laura Everhart, who is prosecuting the case in Norfolk.
Still, the arrest left those who knew Whittle locally nearly floored.
A manager at Whittle's job, Physician's Clinical Laboratory, said he was so shocked that he was "kind of knocked off my feet" and had to "catch my breath." Whittle was a model employee while with the company the past few years and never showed any signs of causing trouble, said the manager, who asked that his name not be printed.
"He's an outstanding individual. It's just beyond belief. He's not the type of person you could ever suspect," the manager said.
Court documents, including an affidavit by NCIS special agent William S. Heath, indicate that Kimbrue, who was found with a seat belt wrapped around her neck, had sustained blunt force injuries and trauma to the head and face. Her body, bound at the wrists with rope, was found in the rear seat of her vehicle and she had been sexually assaulted, according to the documents.
Items found in the car included a green ski mask, two makeshift mittens described as T-shirts stapled together, glass fragments from a broken soft drink bottle, hairs and latent fingerprint impressions, the documents show.
An autopsy determined that the cause of death was drowning after strangulation.
Officials said Whittle was questioned about the murder in April and July 1982, but said he did not know Kimbrue.
Then, in 1983, a co-worker allegedly found Whittle making copies of investigation reports in the case after breaking into the office of the chief of staff of the Naval Safety Center, officials said.
Investigators found that Whittle allegedly had told various acquaintances, roommates and others that he knew Kimbrue from work and that he had been in a building she had been in just before and after her death. Whittle also allegedly told several people that he owned or had access to a ski mask similar to the one found in the victim's car, the documents show.
Investigators also found that 31 head hairs recovered from the ski mask were microscopically similar to Whittle's hair. Sixteen additional head hairs and one pubic hair were also recovered from the woman's car and found to be similar to Whittle's hair, officials said.
Authorities also said that recent forensic examinations also indicated that a latent fingerprint impression recovered from Kimbrue's car in 1982 matches Whittle's left middle finger.