Auburn man arrested in 1981 Whittier murder

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
-A +A
AUBURN CA - An Auburn house painter is behind bars on rape and murder charges in connection with death of a Whittier woman 31 years ago. Whittier Police said Friday they had worked with the Placer County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday to arrest Joseph Allen Thornton, 51, at his Auburn residence. The arrest was made on charges connected to a June 27, 1981 rape-homicide in Whittier. The victim was 21-year-old Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital employee Blanca Stella Negrete. While Whittier authorities investigated the case at the time, Lt. Kent Miller said Friday that all leads were exhausted without a suspect being identified. Whittier Police homicide detectives reopened the case in May 2010, identifying evidence from the sex assault that was collected in 1981 that possibly contained DNA that could crack the case. That evidence was sent to the Los Angeles County Crime Labe for DNA processing. On Jan. 19, Whittier Police homicide detectives learned that the evidence submitted produced enough DNA for a match, Miller said. The DNA information was subsequently entered into a national DNA indexing system and matched to Thornton’s, he said. Thornton and Negrete had gone to Sierra High in Whittier at the same time, Miller said. Whittier Police’s homicide unit conducted an extensive follow-up investigation with the assistance of the Topeka Police Department in Kansas, where Thornton had lived for many years. Thornton had also lived in Nevada but Miller was unable to say where in that state he had lived. The length of Thornton’s residence in Auburn was also unavailable Friday. The investigation located Thornton in Auburn, where he was living and working. On Friday, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office filed murder charges with special allegations of rape against Thornton, Miller said. Thornton will be arraigned on May 10th in Whittier Superior Court. Whittier is a city inside Los Angeles County. Thornton , who turned 51 on Friday, is being held without bail at the Los Angeles County Jail.