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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane law enforcement used fingerprint and DNA evidence to crack a 40-year-old South Hill cold case killing

Nov. 10, 2022 Updated Fri., Nov. 11, 2022 at 1:53 p.m.

Fingerprint and DNA evidence led authorities last month to arrest the suspected killer of Archie Rutherford, who was slain 40 years ago in his South Hill home, according to court documents.

Spokane Police Department detectives and Los Angeles Police Department officers arrested 62-year-old Tracy S. Pruitt Oct. 27 in Los Angeles, where he lives.

Police made no arrests in the four decades following Rutherford’s death. But in October 2020, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office Forensic Unit told Spokane police they had a match to a fingerprint recovered from Rutherford’s car, which was stolen and discovered in downtown Spokane hours after Rutherford was found dead.

Police lifted fingerprints from the stolen Honda in 1982, but the prints did not identify anyone at the time.

Earlier this year, the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab determined that blood from Rutherford’s kitchen submitted to the lab in April belonged to an unknown male, court records said. The DNA from the blood was then entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), the database of known DNA profiles maintained by the FBI. The DNA profile matched Pruitt.

Rutherford’s wife, Eleanor Rutherford, discovered her husband dead in a bedroom of their home at 1207 E. 27th Ave. on Spokane’s South Hill, in the late afternoon of May 25, 1982.

She had just returned from a weekend trip in the Seattle area.

She told police she expected her husband to meet her at the airport but he never arrived. A friend picked her up and took her home. She noticed her green 1979 Honda was gone, newspapers were piled up at the front door and a towel was outside the unlocked door.

An officer found the stolen Honda about eight hours after she reported finding her husband dead.

Police found Archie Rutherford dead on a bed and the attack “clearly began and ended” in the bedroom.

Blood covered his head and neck, and it was also found on the bedding and walls. A detective noticed some cuts on the back of Archie’s left fingers and forearm, which could have been defensive wounds, documents said.

A portable television rested against his face with the cord wrapped around his neck. Pieces of a broken glass decanter, which police believe was broken over Rutherford, were visible near his head and back.

Police found a piece of a cast-iron pan under his body and another piece on the floor of the bedroom. Eleanor Rutherford discovered a cast-iron pan on the stove that was damaged and missing part of its sidewall. She also noticed blood and hair on the pan, which a detective collected as evidence.

Eleanor Rutherford, who died in 1996, told police she also noticed bloody knives on the dining room tables.

An autopsy determined Archie Rutherford died from multiple stab wounds, including the severing of his larynx and jugular. He also had a skull fracture and brain hemorrhage, according to documents.

Rutherford was likely knocked unconscious by a blow to the head before he was repeatedly stabbed to the left side of the head and neck, Spokane County Coroner Lois Shanks told The Spokesman-Review at the time. She said he was likely asleep when the attack started.

Police said in documents that a bloody knife with a bent blade recovered in the kitchen was most likely the weapon used to stab Rutherford. They said they believe the broken cast-iron frying pan caused the blunt-force trauma to Rutherford’s head.

In a walkthrough of the home with police, Eleanor Rutherford noted stolen items, including the Honda, keys to the house and car, her husband’s wallet, which included credit cards, and a 19-inch color television set.

She told police other items were out of place in the house. She said steak knives were found on the dining room table instead of in a kitchen drawer; the glass liquor decanter scattered in pieces around her husband’s body was typically in the hallway; cigarette butts and ash were dumped in the toilet; and her jewelry boxes were rummaged through in her bedroom.

Police wrote in documents the stolen items demonstrate robbery was a potential motive in the killing. They said the amount of “excessive violence” used indicated a level of rage more commonly found in domestic violence situations. However, police believe Archie Rutherford did not know Pruitt.

A resident and the manager at the Myrtle Apartments, which adjoins the lot where the Honda was found, told police they first noticed the car in the lot between 6:30 and 7 a.m. May 25. Police determined Rutherford brought the Honda in for repairs May 24 to Pontiac City, the current home of Findlay Lexus of Spokane, on West Third Avenue. The car was retrieved before noon the same day.

A friend of Rutherford told police he had breakfast with him at The Shack restaurant, about three blocks west of Pontiac City, while the Honda was being serviced. The friend saw Rutherford again around 9:05 p.m. at Rutherford’s work, The Trade Winds Motel. The address is now the Baymont by Wyndham Spokane on the corner of Third Avenue and Lincoln Street off Interstate 90.

The last sighting of Rutherford may have been by a Spokane police officer who believed to have seen him driving the car around 11:30 p.m. May 24 by the Myrtle Apartments.

Pruitt’s name first appeared in the murder investigation on June 26, 1982, about a month after the killing, according to documents. His name was written on a couple of checks that were allegedly payment for Rutherford’s credit cards, according to documents.

On Sept. 29, 1982, a man involved in the credit card transaction became aware credit cards he bought were involved in a homicide and became worried he would be tied to the murder.

A couple of months earlier on July 8, 1982, a woman told Spokane police at High Bridge Park that Pruitt, who was an acquaintance of hers, was driving her 1972 Ford Galaxy when she got out of the vehicle to go to the bathroom. Pruitt and the car were gone when she returned, she told police. The vehicle was found later that month abandoned in Grinnell, Iowa.

Pruitt was arrested later that year in Ohio on suspicion of several counts of rape, robbery, kidnapping and assault that apparently stemmed from an incident on July 31, 1982, according to documents. The victims appeared to have been two women who did not know Pruitt.

Pruitt pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated robbery and three counts of rape.

He was sentenced shortly after to up to 50 years in prison, according to documents. Spokane police said in its release Wednesday Pruitt spent 27 years in prison.

Court documents said a court determined Pruitt to be a “sexual predator.”

Pruitt remains in custody in California awaiting extradition, police said.

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