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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Suspect in Pullman rapes arrested at Spokane construction site after 18 years

UPDATED: Thu., March 17, 2022

Officers with the Spokane Police Department Special Investigations Unit arrest Kenneth Downing, 47, of Elk, Thursday for a series of rapes that allegedly occurred almost two decades ago.   (Courtesy of Spokane Police Department)
Officers with the Spokane Police Department Special Investigations Unit arrest Kenneth Downing, 47, of Elk, Thursday for a series of rapes that allegedly occurred almost two decades ago.  (Courtesy of Spokane Police Department)
By Alayna Shulman and Garrett Cabeza The Spokesman-Review

After 18 years, the suspect in a series of rapes and home invasions in Pullman has been arrested in Spokane.

Kenneth Downing, 47, of Elk, was arrested around 10:45 a.m. Thursday at a construction site where he worked, according to a news release from the Pullman Police Department. PPD Sgt. Aaron Breshears said he could not release where the site was or for what company Downing was working.

“I think that it’s important that after 18 years, our victims here in Pullman now can have some closure and don’t have to worry about this guy running around out there still,” Breshears said.

Officers said they used genetic genealogy to link Downing to rapes and home invasions from November 2003 and March 2004. The technology has helped crack major cold cases including that of the Golden State Killer, who went unidentified for decades until relatives’ use of genealogy websites linked him in 2018 to numerous rapes and killings.

According to the Whitman County Prosecuting Attorney, a woman in 2003 reported that a man broke into her Pullman home and raped her; in the 2004 incident, the office said, two women reported a man breaking into their home, raping one of them and assaulting the other.

Breshears said Pullman police found DNA evidence at the scene of the crimes almost two decades ago, but they were unable to locate a suspect. 

In 2020, the department partnered with a private company that specializes in solving cold cases, Breshears said. They were able to take the DNA profile police identified and go through a process called forensic genetic genealogy. The company identified a “family tree” to focus the investigation.

“Rather than a needle in the haystack, we now had a family to look at, as far as suspects based upon this forensic genetic genealogy,” Breshears said. 

After that, Breshears said police used traditional investigative techniques to identify a suspect and narrow down the evidence to make an arrest.

Downing faces four counts of first-degree rape, three counts of second-degree assault, three counts of unlawful imprisonment, two counts of first-degree burglary and one count of indecent liberties, according to a news release from the Whitman County prosecuting attorney’s office.

Downing’s first court appearance will be Friday in Whitman County.

“I do look forward to proving the case in court and bringing justice to the victims of these violent crimes,” said Dan LeBeau, Whitman County chief deputy prosecutor.

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