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Former Rose Parade official is held in volunteer's 2004 killing

Richard Allan Munnecke, a onetime chairman of the Rose Parade music committee has been arrested on suspicion of killing Donna Lee Kelly, whose body was found in the trunk of her car in 2004.

February 10, 2012|By Adolfo Flores, Andrew Blankstein and Rong-Gong Lin II, Los Angeles Times
  • Richard Allan Munnecke, seen in a Sheriff's Department photo, was arrested Wednesday. He is accused of killing Donna Lee Kelly, right, in 2004.
Richard Allan Munnecke, seen in a Sheriff's Department photo, was…

By all accounts, Richard Allan Munnecke was a model citizen. He devoted several decades to the Tournament of Roses, working up the ranks until he was one of its top directors. He sang in his church choir in San Marino and served in the Pasadena Rotary Club and many other civic groups.

It was through his work at the Rose Parade that he met Donna Lee Kelly, a Buick saleswoman who was also a longtime volunteer for the annual parade effort.

In 2004, Kelly, 59, was found dead, stuffed in the trunk of her car. Police investigated, but the case quickly went cold.

Munnecke, who ran an air conditioning business on Lake Avenue in Pasadena, continued to perform his civic works. He was photographed two months ago at a Red Cross fundraiser.

But this week, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department cold case detectives arrested Munnecke, 71, at his Alhambra home on suspicion of killing Kelly. Detectives said they built their case using DNA and other evidence. They believe Munnecke, who is married, had a romantic relationship with Kelly through their Rose Parade connections.

The arrest stunned the tightly knit Rose Parade community, where joining forces to put on the New Year's Day spectacular each year is considered a civic duty.

"He was just such a consummate gentleman, a supporter of many good causes in town," said Todd Moore, who worked with Munnecke on the board of the Pasadena Council of the Navy League of the United States. "I'm still trying to process everything."

"I knew him for over 50 years," added Pasadena Rotary Club President Kenneth Hill. "We went to high school together, and I just never would've thought this of him."

At the landmark Tournament House in Pasadena, executive director Bill Flinn called the arrest "very tragic for all that have been affected."

"Certainly we are respectful of the process and the investigation that's currently in the hands of authorities," he said.

Kelly, of San Gabriel, was reported missing on April 4, 2004, by her daughter. Her body wasn't found until 11 days later, when her daughter noticed "a foul odor emanating from the trunk" of Kelly's car while driving it in Pasadena. Coroner's officials determined that she had died of suffocation.

Sheriff's Department homicide detective Richard Lopez said the daughter and her boyfriend, whom she later married, were questioned but quickly cleared.

Munnecke was questioned at the time but denied he had any romantic relationship with Kelly, authorities said.

Sheriff's Department investigators collected DNA evidence from Kelly's body, apartment and car, but found no matches in federal and state DNA databases, and the investigation languished for lack of evidence.

Nearly eight years passed before detectives Elizabeth Smith and Lopez took another look at the case. Using funds from a DNA grant, they were able to test genetic material obtained from Munnecke. Authorities allege that evidence links him to Kelly's slaying.

They declined to provide more details about their case or discuss a motive.

Kelly's family issued a brief statement saying that they are "pleased that the investigation is reaching a conclusion and are very grateful to the [Sheriff's Department] for their tireless investigative efforts."

People who knew Munnecke said the allegations are hard to accept because he was such a big force in the community for so many decades.

"He probably joined the Tournament in the '70s.... He was in for a long time," Hill said. "He worked his way up to be chairman of the music committee."

Munnecke was music committee chairman for the Tournament of Roses in 1998-99 and Bandfest director in 1997. It takes hours of work and dedication to rise through the ranks to that level in the organization, Hill said.

He also was a well-known member of the San Marino Community Church. The church newsletter, Faith in Action, recently profiled Munnecke and his wife, Gail, as "the kind of Christians that might be considered the beating heart of the Church."

The profile said Munnecke married Gail in 1966. He taught school in Coos Bay, Ore., between 1966 and 1970. He also served as a social worker, the newsletter said, and helped Steve Prefontaine, the track star, work through his drinking and smoking problems through "counseling, mentoring and teaching."

The family moved to San Marino in 1970.

Tragedy struck in 2001, the newsletter said, when Munnecke's wife was crossing a street and was struck by a car; she suffered permanent injuries that left her in a wheelchair.

"And Allan, whether he's at the helm of a barbecue grill on Kick Off Sunday, or serving Communion, finds peace and fulfillment in the knowledge that he and Gail are serving the Lord together," the newsletter said.

adolfo.flores@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

ron.lin@latimes.com

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