COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A U.S. Army vet was sentenced to life in a Colorado prison last month after DNA on a soda cup and genetic genealogy led to his conviction in the 1987 torture and murder of a female Fort Carson soldier.
Michael David Whyte, 60, of Thornton, was found guilty June 24 of first-degree murder in the March 17, 1987, killing of Army Spc. Darlene “Krash” Krashoc, according to the Army Criminal Investigation Command. Whyte was then a 26-year-old soldier stationed at the base with Krashoc, who was assigned to the 73rd Maintenance Company.
Krashoc, who had enlisted after graduating from high school in 1984, worked as a mechanic. Her mother, Betty Krashoc, testified at Whyte’s trial that her daughter had decided days before her murder to re-enlist and attend Army Airborne School.
The 20-year-old soldier’s dreams were dashed when her brutalized body was found the morning of St. Patrick’s Day behind a Korean restaurant about 6 miles from the base in Colorado Springs.
Krashoc had been raped, beaten and strangled after a night out with friends, according to police. Colorado Springs detectives, who over the years worked the case with Army CID investigators, determined that Krashoc had been killed elsewhere and her body dumped behind the business.
Krashoc’s murder remained unsolved until May 2019, when a CID forensic scientist had more than two dozen pieces of evidence tested for DNA. Working with genetic genealogists at the Virginia-based Parabon Nanolabs, authorities were ultimately able to trace the genetic material to Whyte.
“For 32 years, Michael Whyte was able to evade detectives successfully, but he was not able to evade technology that would prove conclusively that he was the person solely responsible for the rape and murder of Darlene Krashoc,” prosecutor Joseph Eden said during last month’s trial.
Whyte has maintained his innocence. The Colorado Springs Gazette reported that his supporters briefly cried out as the verdict was read.
“I didn’t kill Darlene Krashoc,” Whyte said when asked if he had a statement. “Nothing else.”
Krashoc’s father, Paul Krashoc, expressed relief that his daughter’s long-sought killer is behind bars.
“I’m just glad we lived long enough to see it,” Krashoc said, according to the Gazette.
In a victim impact statement, Krashoc told Whyte the “evil acts” Whyte had committed against his daughter caused the Krashoc family “eternal pain, anguish and agony.” He said he, his wife Betty, their surviving children and extended family members were robbed of Darlene’s “laughter, good deeds and kind, compassionate heart.”
Editor’s note: The following story contains disturbing details of a violent crime.
Torture and murder
Darlene Krashoc, who was a few months shy of her 21st birthday, spent her final night drinking and dancing with members of her unit at Shuffles, a popular nightclub about a mile north of the former Korean Club Restaurant. It was a Monday night, however, so her friends ended up leaving the club early without her, according to the Colorado Sun.
A witness at the club reported seeing Krashoc leave between midnight and 1 a.m. in the company of an unidentified man. It was unclear if that man was Whyte, the Gazette reported.
Two Colorado Springs patrol officers on routine rounds around 5:20 a.m. that morning stumbled upon Krashoc’s body lying behind the Korean Club. According to an affidavit in the case, she was naked from the ankles up.
A black leather strap was knotted around her neck, and a wire clothes hanger had been wrapped around her mouth and neck like a horse’s bridle, Fox21 reported.
The young soldier’s breasts had been bitten and mutilated, and her autopsy showed she had been raped so violently that her liver and spleen suffered blunt force trauma, the affidavit states.
Detectives determined from the condition of Krashoc’s body, as well as fresh tire impressions in the nearby snow, that she had been tortured and killed elsewhere and then her body dumped behind the restaurant.
Authorities conducted hundreds of interviews and looked into about 100 persons of interest, but the case soon turned as cold as the snow in which Krashoc was found.
The case was reopened in 2004 and in 2001 so the physical evidence could undergo DNA testing that had not been available when Krashoc was slain. A partial male DNA profile was developed, but authorities found no match in the national database, court documents state.
Read the affidavit in the case below.
They were able, however, to eliminate about a fourth of the potential suspects based on that partial profile.
In May 2016, Army CID scientist Jessica Veltri, who was working cold cases out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, submitted 27 pieces of physical evidence for DNA testing. The testing included retesting of previously submitted evidence, as well as testing on evidence that had never before gone under the microscope.
A full DNA profile of the killer was developed from saliva found on several cigarette butts left at the scene, as well as semen found inside the leg of Krashoc’s pants, which were tangled around her ankle when her body was found, according to the affidavit.
That winter, Army CID investigators reached out to Parabon, which specializes in phenotyping. Phenotyping is the process of using DNA to predict a person’s ancestry and physical traits.
Parabon created a “Snapshot,” or composite image of what the suspect may have looked like at the time of the crime. The image, which was released to the public, described the killer as a white man of European descent with hazel to green eyes and brown or black hair.
“It is important to note that Snapshot composites are scientific approximations of appearance based on DNA and are not likely to be exact replicas of appearance,” the affidavit states. “Environmental factors such as smoking, drinking, diet and other non-environmental factors — e.g., facial hair, hairstyle, scars, etc. — cannot be predicted by DNA analysis.”
Despite the limitations, the composite helped investigators narrow down the suspects in the case. Army CID officials offered a $10,000 reward for information on the man in the composite, but seemed to hit another dead end, the Sun reported.
‘Unknown Person #1’
It was in January 2019 that investigators again turned to Parabon, whose genealogists began using the public ancestry database GEDmatch to painstakingly reverse engineer a family tree for the unknown killer. At that point, the suspect was known only as “Unknown Person #1.”
According to the affidavit, the search brought up three of the killer’s potential relatives, including two “promising” ones: cousins from the bloodlines of both the suspect’s maternal grandmother and maternal grandfather.
Following the grandparents’ descendants through the generations led to a couple with one son who fit the profile of Unknown Person #1.
That son was Michael Whyte.
“Parabon classifies this as a high confidence identification due to genetic connections identified on both sides of Michael’s family tree, and because he appears to be the only son of the union between his parents,” the affidavit states.
“We received the investigative genetic genealogy report, and there was only a single name listed in the report,” said Jennifer Coslin of the Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory. “That was a pretty memorable moment.”
“Receiving the results of the genetic genealogy report and hearing how the analyst worked through publicly sourced data to identify a specific name was incredibly exciting,” Veltri said. “We finally had a viable lead that could potentially confirm Michael Whyte was the killer.”
The Sun reported that Army CID investigators began trying to further tie Whyte to the crime by reviewing his background, including his military records.
Whyte, who enlisted in 1979, spent 19 years in the Army before retiring as a sergeant first class in 1998. The affidavit states that the former signal operations manager was stationed at Fort Carson from September 1986 to August 1987.
At the time of the murder, he lived 3 miles from the parking lot where Krashoc’s body was found.
Officials with the Army CID shared their findings with Colorado Springs police detectives, who began a surveillance operation on Whyte. They followed him to work and, when he left for his lunch break, followed him to a nearby fast food restaurant.
As he was leaving, he abandoned his soda cup, which detectives took as evidence.
The detectives also obtained swabs from the driver’s door handle of Whyte’s vehicle, which were submitted for testing along with the cup.
Whyte’s DNA on the cup matched that of Krashoc’s killer, authorities said. He was arrested June 13, 2019, at his home.
At the time of his arrest, Whyte was a senior network engineer at CenturyLink, the Sun reported. He was married, had no criminal record and was nearing retirement age.
His name had never come up during the 32-year investigation, as either a suspect or as a witness, Fox21 News reported.
Veltri said the success of the case ultimately depended on several things, beginning with case detectives in 1987.
“A thorough and professional initial investigation and crime scene processing by the original police sergeants, detectives and CID agents who worked the case in the late 1980s,” Veltri said. “The positive working relationship between the Colorado Springs Police Department and Army CID that spanned the entire investigation; the incredible professionalism and dedication of our crime laboratory partners and the open-mindedness of CID leaders to treat this case differently in order to solve it.”
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