In 1984, a woman was murdered at Torrey Pines State Beach in California. Claire Hough was just 14 years old when she was found dead on the beach after being strangled to death and having one of her breasts severed.
Her murder went unsolved for decades.
In 2012, police detective Michael Lambert joined the cold-case homicide unit and ordered DNA tests on Hough’s body, which couldn’t be conducted 28 years earlier. DNA from a man named Ronald Tatro was found in multiple places on Hough’s body. Tatro, however, drowned in 2011 and therefore could not be charged.
Another man’s DNA was also found in a small quantity of the vaginal swab taken during the girl’s autopsy, the San Diego Community News Group (SD News) reported. The DNA belonged to Kevin Brown, who worked as a crime lab employee at the time the sample was handled. SD News reported that crime lab employees testified at a trial for Brown’s widow’s wrongful death lawsuit against city police that in 1984, male lab employees “used their own dried semen samples as a control method” and did not always wear gloves when handling samples or thoroughly cleanse scissors.
Lambert, the detective working Hough’s cold case, wrote an affidavit asking a judge to authorize a search of Brown’s possessions. That affidavit did not mention that contamination could have resulted in Brown’s DNA being found on the victim. Deputy City Attorney Catherine Richardson said Lambert had been told contamination was ruled out as a possible reason for why Brown’s DNA was discovered on the victim, and he was never told contamination was possible.
“He had a distinguished career as a detective. He was an officer for almost 30 years,” Richardson argued at the trial.
She also said Brown never mentioned the fact that crime lab employees used their own semen as a control factor in tests when he was questioned about his DNA being found on Hough. When questioned Brown did say he had sex with a young girl in the early 1980’s who may have been named Claire. He said the sex occurred in a hotel, but police considered him a suspect. Brown allegedly called his old roommates from that time period to see if they remembered anything but then called back asking them not to tell police about anything that happened back then.
Police seized 14 boxes from Brown’s home, including family photos and recipes, a 1937 yearbook, and other mementos that had nothing to do with the case. Brown’s wife, Rebecca, who filed the wrongful death lawsuit, didn’t get the boxes back until after Kevin committed suicide in 2014. Just two days after his suicide, San Diego Police sent out a press release saying Brown had been linked to Hough’s murder. Rebecca filed the wrongful death lawsuit in 2015 and was awarded $6 million in damages for the way her husband had been treated. The individual officers included in the lawsuit – Lambert and detective Maura Mekenas-Parga, were only ordered to each pay $1 in damages.