The Gruesome Murders of 2 Teen Hitchhikers Shocked an Oregon Community—43 Years Later, Police Close the Case
The skeletal remains of two teenage hitchhikers and a small dog were found near Lake of the Woods and the Dead Indian Highway in Oregon on Nov. 17, 1978.
Kirk Leonard Wiseman, 19, and Cynthia Lynn Frayer, 17, had been shot multiple times in the head with a small caliber firearm. There was evidence that Frayer had been sexually assaulted.
Looking through belongings that were found at the scene, investigators found a letter from Frayer to her parents about her travel plans as well as her hopes and dreams that never got mailed.
The two teens had been hitchhiking in Washington state and Oregon and had plans to go to Crater Lake, a spot where Frayer always wanted to visit, when they vanished without a trace in September of 1978.
"There were multiple leads, multiple people they were looking at," said Detective Dan Towery at a press conference Thursday, but the murders remained unsolved for more than 40 years — until until recently when the Klamath County Sheriff's Office announced that they finally closed the case.
The case picked up steam in 2018 when investigators submitted multiple items of evidence to the crime lab, including Frayer's clothing. A year later, they were notified of the presence of male DNA on her clothing.
The sample was entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) but didn't hit on a suspect in the national felon databank.
Investigators reached out to Virginia based forensic service Parabon NanoLabs, which uses DNA and genealogy to help solve gave law enforcement a possible suspect, Ray Whitson Jr., in the summer of 2021. Investigators soon learned that Whitson died in Texas in 1996 but two of his children agreed to provide DNA samples, which later confirmed that DNA found at the crime scene belonged to Whitson.
Investigators said Whitson moved to the Klamath Falls area in 1978 with his family and worked in a nearby lumber mill. He had gone camping in the area where the bodies were found. Investigators said family members also confirmed that Whitson carried around a .22 caliber pistol, the same type of gun used in the slayings.
"At that point, based on our suspect Mr. Whitson being deceased, we have suspended the case at this time ... based on his DNA being on the female victim's body," Towery said at the press conference.
"We have been able to bring closure for a family," Klamath County District Attorney Eve Costello said at the press conference. "Because when somebody dies and you don't know really what happened, you just know they left this universe in a really awful way, it leaves you with a huge hollow feeling. This work has allowed that family to have some degree of peace."
Costello said after reviewing the case that if Whitson was alive, "we have enough to charge."
This story originally appeared on people.com