Over 40 years later, police finally know what happened to Kirk Leonard Wiseman and Cynthia Lynn Frayer.
For those who don’t know, two teenage hitchhikers had plans to go to Crater Lake, a National Park in Oregon where Frayer always wanted to visit, when they vanished without a trace in September of 1978. Two months later, on November 17, the skeletal remains of the pair and a small dog were found near Lake of the Woods and the Dead Indian Highway in Oregon.
Authorities found that Kirk, 19, and Cynthia, 17, had been shot multiple times in the head with a small caliber firearm, and noted there was evidence that Frayer had been sexually assaulted. While digging through their belongings, investigators found a letter from Frayer to her parents that never got mailed, in which she reportedly discussed her travel plans, as well as her hopes and dreams.
At a press conference Thursday, Detective Dan Towery recalled there were “multiple leads, multiple people were looking at,” yet the murders remained unsolved for more than 40 years. But the case found new life in 2018 when investigators submitted multiple pieces of evidence to the crime lab, including Frayer’s clothing.
They were alerted of the presence of male DNA on her clothing a year later and entered the sample into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS); however, it didn’t hit on a suspect in the national felon databank. So detectives reached out to forensic service Parabon NanoLabs, which uses DNA and genealogy to help solve crimes. Lo and behold, Parabon gave law enforcement a possible suspect, Ray Whitson Jr., in the summer of 2021.
Although investigators discovered that Whitson died in Texas in 1996, they were able to find two of his children, who agreed to provide DNA samples that eventually confirmed the DNA found at the crime scene belonged to Whitson.
At the press conference, Towery said investigators discovered that Whitson moved to the Klamath Falls area in 1978 with his family and worked in a nearby lumber mill. He had apparently gone camping in the area where the bodies were found, and family members confirmed to officials that the lumber worker carried around a .22 caliber pistol — the same type of gun used in the killings.
“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.”
Klamath County District Attorney Eve Costello noted at the presser that the case was finally closed, which provided much needed “closure for a family,” adding:
“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 noted that, after looking at the case, if Whitson was alive, “we have enough to charge.”
Our hearts go out to the victims’ families.
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