A man described by a prosecutor as a sexually motivated serial killer was sentenced Monday, Sept. 19, to two consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole for murdering two women in the 1980s, whose bodies were found in Burbank and in Montclair.
Jurors deliberated three hours before convicting Horace Van Vaultz Jr., now 67, of two counts of first-degree murder for the July 16, 1981, strangulation of Selena Keough — a 21-year-old mother 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 her car’s trunk in an empty parking lot in Burbank.
The nine-man, three-woman panel also found true the special-circumstance allegations of murder during a rape involving both women and murder during sodomy involving Keough.
Vaultz, who was convicted last month of both murders, testified in his own defense and denied any involvement in the killings.
The case marked the first criminal prosecution in Los Angeles County 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 then collect his DNA, then-Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said.
In a statement read in court by Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman at the sentencing, Duggan’s mother, Maureen, said, “When you get past the shock of hearing your daughter is dead, you wonder who is out there that did this. Then you just miss her so much, every day, at every family gathering and holiday. …
“You don’t think of who after so many years,” she said. “It’s one thing that your child dies at only 22 years old. It’s a whole other thing to know she suffered in dying at the hands of a monster.”
Also in court were the parents and brother of Janna Rowe, a 25-year-old woman whose murder Vaultz was acquitted of decades ago in Ventura County.
The prosecutor noted during Vaultz’s trial that DNA evidence — which now links the defendant to DNA from semen found in Rowe’s mouth, vagina and anus — was not available for testing when Vaultz was acquitted of Rowe’s 1986 killing in Ventura County. The prosecutor noted that the defendant cannot be retried for that crime but the jury could use it as “pattern evidence.”
Rowe’s mother, Marcia Conner, called Vaultz’s latest trial “bittersweet to me,” saying she was thankful for the outcome though her family “has had to live with the knowledge that we would never find justice.”
She said she wanted to “thank everyone involved in solving this case and bringing it to trial” and hoped that the verdict “brings some closure to the families that have suffered through these past long years of heartbreak.”
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Vaultz, by then a Bakersfield resident, was arrested in November 2019 in connection with the killings of Keough and Duggan.
Burbank Sgt. Aaron Kay has lauded the initial investigators who handled the Keough and Duggan killings: Evidence was preserved when “DNA wasn’t even a thing back in 1986, 1981,” but that DNA technology “caught up” by the time he was handed the case to re-investigate it.
“It’s been incredible to be able to deliver something to the victims’ families,” the sergeant said.