MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – Thirty-eight-years later to the day, Montgomery County Cold Case Detectives collected DNA from the man now charged with raping, strangling and setting Laura Marie Purchase on fire — Thomas Darnell, 75.
On April 30, 2021 that DNA sample was positively matched to Darnell’s DNA profile collected from Purchase’s body. A warrant for capital murder was issued in Montgomery County, and he was arrested at his home on May 11, 2021.
More than three decades ago, on March 17, 1983, a Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Deputy was on patrol in the 4000 block of IH-45 near League Line Road when he saw a fire burning in a wooded area to the east of his location. While investigating, he discovered a burning body.
An autopsy was performed on the victim, later identified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as Purchase, which revealed someone had raped and strangled her. Additionally, traces of a male’s DNA were found.
In 2007, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Squad resubmitted the unknown male’s DNA found during the initial investigation. Self-professed serial killer Henry Lee Lucas originally confessed to the crime in 1983, and was convicted of it in 1986. However, he (along with his alleged co-defendant Otis Elwood Toole) was eliminated by DNA in 2008.
In October 2019, Investigators sent the DNA evidence for genealogy testing. An investigative lead generated from that genealogy report showed Darnell, who’s from Kansas City, Kansas, as a potential suspect. A DNA search warrant for Darnell was obtained as a result of the investigation.
Montgomery County Cold Case Detectives went to Kansas City on March 17, 2021 and collected a known DNA sample from Darnell.
On May 20, 2021, Darnell was extradited to Montgomery County and is currently in the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Jail on capital murder charges with no bond.