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Pullman police arrest suspect involved in 18-year sexual assault cold case

The suspect, 47-year-old Kenneth Downing, was arrested at a construction site in North Spokane.

PULLMAN, Wash. — The Pullman Police Department have announced a major arrest in an 18-year-old cold case.

Investigators say they linked a 47-year-old man to a series of home invasions and sexual assaults that happened between November of 2003 and March of 2004.

It's a mystery that's puzzled detectives, until now.

For nearly two decades, Pullman police detectives had a sketch of a face, but not the name of a man who broke into several homes and sexually assaulted female students 18 years ago.

This morning, police say they put that man in handcuffs. 47-year-old Kenneth Downing was arrested at a construction site in North Spokane.

"It is very exciting for us to finally bring our victims some closure, it's been a long time coming and something that our victims needed and deserved," Pullman Sgt. Aaron Breshears said.

Breshears has been with the department for 23 years, and responded to one of those sexual assault cases. Aside from a sketch, detectives also had DNA evidence collected from the crime scenes. What they didn't see was a match.

 "It always comes back up and you wonder, where is this person?," Breshears said.

Police say they finally had an answer after plugging that DNA into a genealogical database, containing millions of samples sent in by people curious to find out about their heritage and family tree.

"It is a very valuable tool, especially for these types of cold cases," Breshears said. "When you haven't identified an individual suspect the forensic genetic genealogy gives us the tool to identify the suspects, essentially his family tree or her family tree in order to give us a more focused investigation and identify that suspect."

Police believe Downing or a relative provided their DNA into a genealogy site, unknowingly helping detectives narrow their search, which ultimately lead to Downing's arrest and closure to the victims.

Police know of at least three women who were raped.

"They were very relieved, is probably the best word," Breshears said. "I don't want to put words in their mouth but they were relieved that this finally has some closure."

Police say Downing was not a college student at WSU. He lives in Elk, Washington and tonight, he is in the Whitman County Jail, charged with three felonies, including rape, burglary and assault. 

Downing is being held on a $5 million bond. He's scheduled to appear before a judge tomorrow morning.

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