A convicted sex offender has been arrested and charged with murder and attempted murder in a 1979 cold case investigation recently reopened by Indiana State Police.

Richard L. Boswell Jr., 53, of 6875 E. Gross Rd., will make his initial appearance this morning in Vigo Superior Court 6 to face the allegation that he abducted and murdered 20-year-old Kathy Jo Baker in a rural area northeast of Riley on May 22, 1979.

Boswell also has been accused of attempting to murder the woman’s then 2-year-old son, Ryan Baker, by striking him in the head and leaving him for dead near his mother’s body.

DNA evidence preserved by ISP was used to connect Boswell to the murder, police said.

Announcement of Boswell’s arrest was made Thursday afternoon in the office of Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt — in the presence of the mother, husband, sisters, niece and now 33-year-old son of Kathy Jo Baker.

A framed photograph of a smiling, long-haired Baker sat on the table in front of Modesitt, Chief Deputy Prosecutor Rob Roberts, ISP Sgt. Joe Watts, Detective Tony Guinn and Detective Troy Stanton.

Husband Kenny Baker told the media that the family had no comment to make following the press conference. The family had met with Modesitt before the press conference.

Modesitt said the victim’s family is glad that someone has finally been charged in her death, but the case brings up a lot of emotion for them.

“It’s been going on in their lives for 31 years,” the prosecutor said.

Stanton said it is the ISP’s practice to continually review cold cases, and it was in April 2008 that a new lead came up in the case. A DNA sample was collected from a suspect, and several items of evidence from the Baker case were sent to the ISP Laboratory for DNA analysis.

In March, almost two years after the DNA was submitted for testing, ISP detectives received lab results showing that DNA evidence found on Baker’s clothing matched Boswell’s DNA profile. The case was then assigned to Stanton and Guinn, who began examining evidence, reviewing case files, and interviewing and re-interviewing people about the case.

Boswell was interviewed on Aug. 19 at his Riley-area home, and confirmed to the detectives that he knew Baker through her brothers. He also told police he had assisted her with a lawn mower repair about one year before her death. That repair occurred at the same residence from which she was later reported missing.

Boswell also told investigators that at the time Baker went missing, he had friends who lived in the area of her home, and he commonly drove past that area in his yellow 1975 Pontiac Astre. A witness told police in 1979 that she saw Boswell’s car in the area of the Baker residence on the day Kathy Jo Baker went missing.

On that day in May 1979, Kenny Baker contacted ISP to report that his wife and toddler son were missing from the home. A search of the area was conducted, but the mother and son were not found. Another police search of the area on the following morning did not locate them either. But around 1:30 p.m. that day, police learned that people fishing about a mile and a half north of the Baker residence reported hearing a baby crying in the woods on coal mine property the night before.

A search of that rural area led to Baker and her son, who had sustained a serious head injury. The child was taken to a hospital for treatment and recovered. Baker was pronounced dead at the scene, and her body was taken for an autopsy that determined the cause of death was strangulation and asphyxiation.

“DNA as a big part of this case,” Watts said. “Kudos to the investigators on how it was properly packaged, properly held and properly maintained for 31 years.”

Prosecutor Modesitt agreed that preservation of evidence is crucial in criminal cases, and that even 30 years in the future, additional investigative tools may be available to solve cold cases.

Stanton asked that anyone with additional information about this case contact the ISP post at (812) 299-1151. The investigation is not closed, he said.

Stanton and Guinn requested the arrest warrant for Boswell on Thursday morning in Vigo Superior Court 6. They met with Boswell at the Riley Fire Station, where he was arrested and transported to the state police post at Putnamville for additional questioning. Boswell is not affiliated with the fire department.

When asked about the timing of the arrest, just weeks prior to the November general election in which Modesitt is a candidate for re-election, he replied that the information about Boswell as a suspect first came to him in August. The timing of the arrest following the progress of the investigation, he said.

“To me, that’s no place to play politics,” he said of possible assertions of pre-election publicity.

“Obviously, these cases are brought to us by the law enforcement agencies” as they develop, Modesitt said.

Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com.

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