Arrest made in 42-year-old Auburn child murder case

Mother charged with killing 4-year-old daughter
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AUBURN, CA - After nearly 42 years, Auburn Police arrested a mother for the murder of her 4-year-old child Thursday night. With the help of the Placer County District Attorney’s Cold Case Unit, Grass Valley resident Patricia Lee Thomas, a.k.a. Patricia Lee Howell, 66, was arrested for the May 25, 1970 death of her four-year-old daughter. The child’s death was originally reported as a bathtub drowning in Auburn. New information received by law enforcement led to a reopening of the investigation and ultimately to Thursday’s arrest. “This horrendous criminal act occurred 42 years ago,” Auburn Police Chief John Ruffcorn said in a release. “The collaborative investigation between the two agencies was instrumental in this arrest.” Thomas is charged with a single count of murder and will be arraigned in Department 13 of the Placer County Superior Court on Monday at 1:30 p.m. She is being held without bail at the Placer County Jail in Auburn. Ruffcorn said Friday he could not release further details about what led investigators to reopen the case until after Monday’s arraignment. He also could not say whether Thomas has any current family members or ties to the Auburn area. He credited the efforts of both Auburn Police and the District Attorney’s Office. “We have some really good people working here,” Ruffcorn said. “The District Attorney’s and the county’s cooperation shows the really unique law enforcement relationship we have in this county.” For more information, check back to and see Sunday’s paper. ~ Staff report