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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Slain woman a past victim of sex assault

Police still investigating possible link to other sex crimes against elderly.
By Jon Ruhlen -

The Hutchinson News -

The 85-year-old resident of a Buhler retirement community who was slain over the weekend was the victim of a burglary and sexual battery in late March. Reno County District Attorney Keith Schroeder said investigators are operating under the assumption Pearl Arthaud's death and the March 21 crime are connected "because we want to err on the side of caution, but I can't say that it is."

A report on the earlier incident didn't indicate whether there was forced entry into the independent-living apartment on the Sunshine Meadows Retirement Community campus where Arthaud lived, but it did state the assailant was believed to be under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Schroeder, acting as spokesman for a special task force that includes the Reno County Sheriff's Department, Kansas Bureau of Investigation and police departments in Hutchinson, South Hutchinson and Buhler, spent nearly the entire day meeting with detectives involved in the case.

"The task force is working as hard as they can humanly work," Schroeder said. "Suffice it to say the investigation is making great progress."A KBI forensics team scoured the apartment Tuesday. Schroeder said in press release that the KBI "has given high priority to the forensic examination of multiple pieces of potential physical evidence."

A family member last saw Arthaud about 10:30 p.m. Saturday night. A relative who arrived to take her to church found her body at 9:42 a.m. Sunday.

Because of the similarity of some aspects of the crimes with previous sexual assaults in Hutchinson and South Hutchinson, Schroeder said he suggested police form a task force to investigate the homicide.

Officials confirmed they're investigating possible connections between the homicide, the March 30 sexual assault of a 90-year-old woman at Mennonite Manor in South Hutchinson and an April 6 sexual assault on a 62-year-old woman in a Hutchinson residence.

"It became obvious that we had multiple things that may or may not be tied together," Schroeder said.

Preliminary autopsy results don't indicate whether Arthaud was sexually assaulted the night she was killed. Schroeder said investigators are waiting on lab results to make that determination.

A police report of the homicide indicates there was no forced entry. The South Hutchinson case also does not indicate forced entry, although the Hutchinson attack does.

The March 21 attack occurred around 6 a.m., the March 30 one between 9:15 and 9:30 p.m., and the April 6 attack around 5 a.m., police reports indicate.

It is not clear if any of the attacks involved theft. Police have said the suspect is a white male but have not provided additional information. Schroeder said police have talked to witnesses as well as the victims but there's "nothing consistent enough for me to put out to the public."

Investigators ruled the death a homicide after getting the preliminary autopsy results Monday night. Schroeder won't comment on the cause of death in order to avoid "jeopardizing the integrity of the investigation."

Schroeder said he isn't aware of other suspicious activity or threatening calls to Sunshine Meadows residents.

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