Man convicted in slayings of 2 women in 1980s
By TERRI VERMEULEN KEITH
A 67-year-old man described by a prosecutor as a sexually motivated serial killer was convicted Thursday of murdering two women in the 1980s, including one in Burbank.
A downtown Los Angeles jury deliberated for about three hours before convicting Horace Van Vaultz Jr. of first-degree murder for the July 16, 1981, strangulation of Selena Keough, a 21-year-old mother who was killed in San Bernardino County and dumped under bushes in Montclair, and the June 9, 1986, asphyxiation of Mary Duggan, a 22-year-old Reseda resident whose body was found in the trunk of her car in an empty parking lot in Burbank.
Jurors also found true multiple special circumstance allegations, meaning Vaultz faces a possible sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole when he is sentenced Sept. 19. The jury found true special circumstance allegations of multiple murders, murder during a rape involving both women and murder during sodomy involving Keough.
During the nearly month-long trial, Vaultz denied any involvement in the killings.
Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman told jurors in her closing argument the killings were “sexually motivated homicides” that were “committed by the same serial killer between 1981 and 1986,” and she urged jurors to find Vaultz guilty of both killings.
The prosecutor said Vaultz has been “unable to explain any of the evidence tying him to the murders in this case,” including DNA evidence found on or in the bodies of each of the women, who were discovered either fully or partially nude.
She cited “a ton of evidence” that points “only to the defendant.”
“The defendant chose these victims,” Silverman said. “The defendant is sitting here because he’s a serial killer … a sexual predator.”
The deputy district attorney noted that DNA evidence was not available for testing when Vaultz was acquitted of the 1986 killing of 25-year-old Janna Rowe in Ventura County, noting that he cannot be retried for that crime but the jury can use it as “pattern evidence.”
The prosecutor urged jurors to “hold him accountable” and to “tell him that his reign of terror ends now.”
Vaultz’s attorney, Damon Lamont Hobdy, countered that the prosecution “didn’t prove it.”
“If the evidence shows he’s not guilty, which it does, do your duty,” he told jurors, urging them to acquit Vaultz of both killings.
He acknowledged that his client — an admitted swinger who cheated on his wives and girlfriends — is “not perfect.” But the defense attorney said that doesn’t prove his client is a serial killer.
While testifying in his own defense, Vaultz told jurors he didn’t remember Keough or Duggan and was not responsible for their killings or that of Rowe, whom he admitted that he knew.
“My semen means I may have had sex with the person. It doesn’t mean I killed them,” said Vaultz, a former Marine.
“I’m telling you I didn’t kill anyone,” he said, when questioned about DNA evidence.
Vaultz, by then a Bakersfield resident, was arrested in Inglewood during a November 2019 traffic stop by Burbank police in connection with the killings of Keough and Duggan.
The case marked the first criminal prosecution in Los Angeles County involving investigative genetic genealogy, in which detectives access commercial DNA databases, load DNA material from the crime and find a relative’s match that can point toward a suspect and collect their DNA, then- Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said at the time.
Then-Burbank Police Department Chief Scott LaChasse credited “more contemporary technology” with helping to identify Vaultz as the suspect.
Vaultz has remained behind bars without bail since his arrest, telling jurors that he has spent the past two years and nine months “courtesy of the L.A. County jail.”